Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

Word Origins: When did ‘zzz’ start signifying sleep??

One of my favorite parts of doing these word origins posts is that they make me think about things that I usually just take for granted and don’t pause to consider why it is that way. For example, using three z’s to represent someone being asleep. It’s unquestionable to me; just an obvious thing that I somehow, sometime, learned. But… why?? That’s definitely not super intuitive!

Origins of “zzz”

When did it first get used?
I’ve seen this on many resources, but none could actually specify what exactly it was from so this is a little hairy. But 1900s at least!

What does it mean?
Represents someone being asleep

What did it come from?
I found many sources stating it originated in comics, when artists were trying to find a simple way to show that someone was asleep. Limited space required concise art and language, so zzz was used as an onomateopoeia of snoring. Another variant was to use a tiny saw cutting through a log, with “zzz” being attributed to the saw and the sleeper as making the same noise. I guess it just got shortened along the way!

Not convinced? Me either

Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone muttering a “zzzzz” sound while asleep. If anything it’s more of a throaty “HAAAAAOOOOOCKKKK….” with a bit of a snort mixed in. I’m not the only one who has a different idea of the sound of sleep, either: onomatopoeia is typically represented differently in languages all around (particularly in animal sounds!).

Comment below with how to represent snoring in your language! 😁
Ps – here are some more delightful posters like the one below!


Reader, traveler, photographer, and always looking to learn!

2 thoughts on “Word Origins: When did ‘zzz’ start signifying sleep??

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