I read the word in a children book,

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What is a "zip-zap"? Where did the word come from?

  • If (as seems likely) it's a trade name, this would be off-topic on ELU. The object is fairly obviously a firework of the Catherine-wheel variety. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 11 at 15:11

The picture isn't what is generally known as a zip-zap. The picture shows a Catherine Wheel.

A zip-zap comprises a number of projectiles which are launched in sequence, in a fan-shape from left to right and back again. Here's one of 35 shots, and video of it in action.

I guess the name comes from the reciprocating nature of the display.

Zip-zap from Kimbolton Fireworks

Video of zip-zap in action

  • Huh, I’ve never even heard of these things. Don’t recall seeing any either. How funny! And now I’m even more curious as to what “fan of crackling comets to fish, whistle and crackling” might mean. I can’t even parse that as a meaningful sentence. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 11 at 20:50

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