Is it correct English to use the term zipped instead of compressed when dealing with computer files?

Is it a neologism that is widely accepted as part of modern English?

9 Answers 9


Yes, people say zipped to mean compressed the same way they say googled to mean searched or hoovered to mean vacuumed.

The ZIP file format dates back to 1989.

  • It's uncommon to use Hoovered. Even in British English (or perhaps especially in BrE, as it's just plain uncommon in AmE), it has been genericized to hoovered. See this earlier EL&U question.
    – John Y
    Aug 31, 2012 at 15:56
  • Aside from the capitalization issue, this is increasingly becoming my favorite answer of the bunch (despite one of my comments on @5arx's answer). I'm getting very tired of all the "well technically..." pedantry (which I'm guilty of contributing to). You gave a link to Wikipedia. That's sufficient. Let's just accept that zipped is being used this way and move on.
    – John Y
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:37
  • @JohnY I hemmed and hawed as I wrote it. I have dipped into the lower case and re-set this answer. Aug 31, 2012 at 16:44
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    This is one of the better answers, so I hope you will update your answer with my suggestion. It's actually preferable to use "zipped" instead of "compressed". The level of computer illiteracy is such that people may actually get confused if you say "compressed". Aug 31, 2012 at 17:45
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    The trouble is, of course, that it doesn't really matter which search engine or vacuum cleaner you used -- the end result is the same, so it's generally unimportant whether you hoovered or vacuumed, googled or searched, xeroxed or photocopied. However, the effect of using zip, tar or rar to compress a file is quite different, as are the tools required to reverse the operation.
    – calum_b
    Sep 1, 2012 at 16:04

I would say no, they are not the same. As Ian says, there are many ways to compress a file or set of files; Zip is only one of them. It would be like using "banana" to mean any kind of fruit, or "Ford" to mean any kind of car.

I just had a frustrating conversation with my daughter the other day where she asked if I had any software to unzip a file. I told her that her computer has Windows 7, unzip software is built in, just open it. She said it didn't work. It eventually turned out that what she had was an RAR file, not a Zip. We had one of those totally unproductive conversations where she apparently couldn't comprehend what I meant when I said this was not a Zip file and unzip software would be of no value.

So maybe to many people "zip file" is becoming a generic term for any sort of compression or any file that contains multiple files embedded within it. Personally I rebel at such imprecise language.

  • 7
    @JohnY Nevertheless, compressing a file with the RAR file format does not make it a "zipped" file just because you used "7-Zip".
    – lily
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:31
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    @JohnY I have never heard any tech-savvy people refer to anything besides .zip files as "zip files". It's always, always, a "rar file/archive" for .rars, a "tarball" for .tar.gz (and less commonly, .tar, .tar.<other compression>, etc), or, much more rarely, "archive file" if you want a generic term for all of them.
    – Izkata
    Aug 31, 2012 at 17:49
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    @Izkata: Still missing the point. The question wasn't "do tech-savvy people make a distinction between zipped and compressed?". It was "has zipped become a neologism for compressed?". The answer is clearly yes. My message to tech-savvy people: If you're so tech-savvy, why does it matter what a layperson calls it? Are you somehow unable to open a tarball if a layperson says it's a zip file?
    – John Y
    Aug 31, 2012 at 17:58
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    @JohnY Just because this particular train is leaving the station doesn't mean that I have to buy a ticket for it. I intend to stand on the platform and make rude remarks to everyone who boards. Or at least, give them nasty looks. :-)
    – Jay
    Aug 31, 2012 at 19:27
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    @JohnY Yes, yes, once I saw the issue, we quickly found some software that would extract the contents of the file. But the problem with such careless language is that it leads to exactly this sort of confusion: Any given decompression program will have some specific set of file types that it can handle. If people don't understand that there ARE different compression methods, a simple question like, "What formats does this program decompress?" can sound incomprehensible.
    – Jay
    Aug 31, 2012 at 19:34

In most cases, a zipped file is compressed; However, a compressed file is not necessarily zipped.

So, no, you can not just use zipped instead of compressed, although the contrary is possible.

  • 2
    A zipped file doesn't actually have to be compressed. Some files are uncompressible but could still be added to a zip file.
    – Rory Alsop
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:29
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    @RoryAlsop Beyond that, some zip tools will let you pick a no-compression level option ("store" in 7zip) allowing you to create a .zip file full of potentially compressible files that aren't compressed. Aug 31, 2012 at 17:41
  • @RoryAlsop Good point here. Hope I've made my answer clearer.
    – seriousdev
    Aug 31, 2012 at 19:45

Yes, they are generally interchangeable. However, the definitions are different. A compressed file can be compressed in any number of ways, for example, a .jpg image is more compressed than a .png image. A zipped file is a folder that has basically been turned into a file for sharing and sending. A zipped folder does not have to be compressed.

  • 9
    A zipped file is not a directory; it is still a file.
    – tchrist
    Aug 31, 2012 at 12:57
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    Well, since Windows XP zipped files are treated much like directories by Windows. The distinction is blurring.
    – Jay
    Aug 31, 2012 at 13:44
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    It's notable that zip is not the only general-purpose compression format too, and telling someone that a .tar.gz or .7z file is "zipped" is incorrect and confusing (especially since Windows by default only handles actual zip files). Aug 31, 2012 at 14:47
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    ... Except that the "z" in .gz and .7z stands for "Zip"; the files are "GZip" and "7-Zip" files. However, Ian is correct; ZIP is an "archival" storage format which allows various compression algorithms (the most popular being LZ77-based DEFLATE) to be applied to the archived data.
    – KeithS
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:43
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    @ObsessiveFOSS: A *.tar is neither "compressed" nor "zipped". That's why *.tar.gz is so common.
    – ruakh
    Aug 31, 2012 at 17:37

As per the definition of zip on Wiktionary.org (a site that may have unsubstantiated definitions and usage notes):

v. (transitive, computing) To compress (one or more computer files) into a single and often smaller file, especially one in the ZIP format.

I would say the answer is that it is "accepted" though your mileage may vary if you're talking to someone computer illiterate.

  • 2
    You might should mention that your source is only Wiktionary, which is not much of an authority.
    – tchrist
    Aug 31, 2012 at 12:56
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    @tchrist Are you trying to say that there might be things on the Internet that aren't true? That's just crazy talk.
    – Jay
    Aug 31, 2012 at 13:54
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    I think the logic of your last paragraph should be reversed... "your mileage may vary if you're talking to someone computer literate". In my (techy) opinion it is more likely to be accepted by the computer illiterate. But the 100% computer illiteate will struggle with the term compressed.
    – MrWhite
    Aug 31, 2012 at 14:56
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    @w3d Interesting point, though in that case I'd prefer to communicate to them the basic process with a word like shrink or make smaller rather than a bit of jargon that would go over their heads.
    – Zairja
    Aug 31, 2012 at 15:03

There are many compression algorithms, Zip is just a very well-known one in Windows and OSX contexts. Older IT people may think immediately of tar (tape archives), older Mac-heads might think of Stuffit archives, youngsters may prefer the 7Zip format for compressed files.

So if you want to be strictly correct (for example if you are an IT type) you would use compressed to refer to the general case and zipped for archives that have specifically been compressed with the Zip algorithm. For muggles the terms are mostly synonymous because they rarely bother with anything other than classic Zip which most modern OSes support out-of-the-box. However, as other responders have noted, it is not uncommon to find archives created by using other technologies. The RAR or ARJ formats spring to mind here.

  • 1
    Zip isn't an algorithm but an archive format. It can contain files compressed with a number of algorithms. Deflate being the most common. Aug 31, 2012 at 16:08
  • @AlexandreJasmin: That's extremely pedantic, especially for EL&U. You could apply your comment to almost all the answers here. If you really want to be technical, you also have to mention that a ZIP archive can contain files that are not compressed at all. That's actually much more common than using a compression other than Deflate.
    – John Y
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:21
  • @JohnY - it is pedantic, but we're all in the business of truth and accuracy on SE so its a fair comment imho.
    – immutabl
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:23
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    EVERY answer here has inaccuracies of some sort or another, but to me, this is the one (thus far) that best captures the state of zipped and compressed in the English language today.
    – John Y
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:25
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    @5arx: I would say we're in the business of helping people with English here on EL&U, not in the business of providing every possible technical detail, especially when it comes to computer details that most people (including most computer professionals!) don't really need to care about.
    – John Y
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:27

Actually it is not 100% equal. Compression is the term of 'compressing' a (set of) files/folders.

Zipping is the noun for performing this task using the so called zip file format. This file format is generated using a zip-application (e.g. winzip) which implement this task.

However, next to the zip file format there are many others, like tar, arj etc. Each have their own application or support multiple file formats (and thus algorithms).

Your question can also be compared to 'googling' a term in a browser; Google is not the only application but since it is so widely used it is accepted by some as 'searching a term in a browser'.


They are interchangeable depending on the context. If we are talking about computer thing, then it's ok to use them as synonyms.

  • People are of course free to vote as they wish, but I just wanted to express that I personally feel this is not worth multiple downvotes (it's at minus two as I write this). It seems to me this answer is pointing out that zipped and compressed might not be at all interchangeable in noncomputer contexts. For example, we could be talking about a fluffy jacket.
    – John Y
    Aug 31, 2012 at 20:39
  • @JohnY It's being downvoted because of the blatantly wrong second line: They are not synonyms, as pointed out by just about all the other answers.
    – Izkata
    Sep 1, 2012 at 2:27
  • @Izkata: They are not synonyms to computer professionals, but they might as well be synonyms to laypeople, and EL&U is a site for everyone, not just computer professionals. Note that this question is tagged neologisms and does not have a tag for computer terminology. Yes, the files are on a computer. But laypeople have to use computers too. When laypeople say "this file is zipped" they might mean this file is compressed in some format which may or may not be ZIP and with today's tools, that is perfectly fine and very, very easy to deal with.
    – John Y
    Sep 2, 2012 at 14:16

It's better to use zipped. This is the most commonly used in the IT field.

  • Zip is a Microsoft thing; it does not mean compressed in general.
    – tchrist
    Aug 31, 2012 at 12:55
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    I don't think it's a microsoft thing. The inventor of PKZIP, which gave the name zip, was not part of microsoft, almost sure of that. Aug 31, 2012 at 13:00
  • It's true that ZIP was the most popular - and de-facto standard - for compressing files on Microsoft platforms, while unix usually went with tar-and-compress or tar-and-gzip, but it's still far from being a Microsoft thing. Not everything that's not Unix is Microsoft. :) Aug 31, 2012 at 14:16
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    "in the IT field" it is more common and far more correct to use the term "compressed" when talking generally about compressed files.
    – MrWhite
    Aug 31, 2012 at 14:39
  • @AvnerShahar-Kashtan - GNU's not Unix! (Yeah, all right, but it had to be said).
    – user16269
    Sep 1, 2012 at 20:46

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