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?
1918*
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!