Zythum has been wronged. An upstart, “zyzzyva,” has taken its place as the last word in the dictionary.
I suppose a South African weevil needs to be called something, but why “zyzzyva”? Zythum has a much better case to be the last word. Let’s work backwards, and you’ll see what I mean.
What is Zythum?
Zythum is a malt beverage that the ancient Egyptians brewed, as we mentioned in another post about Z. These are more words that start with z, and these words come right before zythum.
- Zymurgy, the word right before zyzzyva, is “the chemistry of fermentation.”
- Zymotic has two definitions. It can be caused by fermentation, or it refers to a class of infectious diseases, such as smallpox, that were once believed to be caused by fermentation.
- Zymose is the fermentation product produced by yeast plants and is found in our intestines. Zymase is the enzyme in yeast that breaks down glucose and carbohydrates.
- Zymoscopes test the fermentation power of yeast.
- A zymophyte is a bacterium that causes fermentation.
- A zymometer measures the degree of fermentation.
- Zymolysis is the fermenting action of yeasts.
- Zymology is the science of fermentation.
- A zymologist is obviously skilled in zymology.
- This post is zymological because it deals with zymology.
- A zymoid is a poison derived from decaying tissue.
- The process by which a zymogen turns into an enzyme is zymogenesis.
- Zymogen is a substance capable of becoming an enzyme.
- And a priest who uses leavened bread in religious ceremonies is a zymite.
What is the history of Zyzzyva?
The Oxford Dictionary has added the word “zyzzyva” within the past decade, but it has an older history. Sources attribute the word to Thomas Lincoln Casey, an American entomologist. In 1922, he christened an insect he discovered in Brazil the Zyzzyva.
Casey was an army engineer and entomologist who specialized in Coleoptera, an order of insects most of us know as beetles. Entomologists estimate that roughly 400,000 species of beetles roam the earth, and they thrive in almost any habitat.
A zyzzyva belongs to the family Curculionidae, and the zyzzyva is one of an estimated 97,000 species of weevils. Casey never explained why he chose the name. Some theorize that he wanted a word that resembled the sound the weevil makes. It’s also possible that he made up the word so it would be at the end of the dictionary.
Casey died in 1925 at the age of 68, and he would have had to wait nearly a century to see his neologism, or invented word, find its way into the dictionary.