April 30, 2020

Z is for Zany

        (My theme for this year’s April A to Z Blog Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.  It’s also not too late to check out the Master List of participating A-Z Blogs, and find more alphabetic fun.)

Z was a zany, a poor harmless fool.

        This is obviously not a full nursery rhyme.  It’s one line from an alphabet poem that is often included in nursery rhyme books, which is why I’m counting it.  It begins “A was an Archer, who shot at a frog,” and you can see one version in its entirety here.  Our single line for Z rhymes with “Y was a youth that did not love school.”  Yes, this is a very weak way to end the A-Z Challenge, but Z words just don’t seem to show up in the older nursery rhymes.  The only place we ever see a Z word is in an alphabet, and half the time even the alphabets lump X, Y, Z and & together at the end without words of their own.  Those alphabets that do give Z a proper treatment seem to have considered few options.  Many of the earlier primers, especially those from Puritan New England, use Zaccheus from the New Testament.  At least he gets  a pleasing little rhyme of his own: 
   Zaccheus he
   Did climb the tree
   His Lord to see.
One free-spirited alphabet from 1800 uses zebu, one from the 1850’s uses Zenobia “the queen of the east,” one of Walter Crane’s alphabets from 1874 uses zodiac, and a number of illustrated alphabets use the zebra you might expect.  But the most common, especially in those versions of the alphabet that include rhyming verses and thus can squeak themselves into the category of nursery rhymes, use zany.
        So what is a zany anyway?  Now that we really are at the last post of April, here’s some more Word-of-the-Month fun.
Zany as a noun, meaning a clown, comes from a Venetian dialect version of Gianni, which is a nickname for Giovanni, which is the Italian equivalent of John; thus Zany is really yet another Jack.  The character was a stock clown from the Commedia dell-arte, sometimes stupid and sometimes cunning.  Clearly by the nineteenth century in English there was no cunning left, only stupidity.  Nowadays the noun version is no longer in common use, but you’ll still encounter the word zany as an adjective meaning crazy, absurd, eccentric.  Although the adjectival form had entered English in the seventeenth century, it seems that these childrens’ alphabets still considered the noun to be in current use and a word suitable for basic nursery vocabulary.  Or at least no less suitable than zebu or Zenobia.
        Some of the letters of the alphabet, like the A shooting at, of all things, a frog, seem to hint at some sort of story, but Z gives us nothing.  There he is, just being a fool.  Perhaps he’s a friend of some of our other nursery rhyme fools, joining the wise men of Gotham in their bowl, or Simple Simon looking for plums.  I like to think that our Zany will be able to steer clear of the less pleasant letters in his alphabet, including the Drunkard, the Gamester, the Miser (of some versions), the Robber, and the Userer, and, like the crooked man, find some friends who understand him.  Which nursery rhyme character do you think would be the best friend for a Zany?
        A final note for impressionable children: Congratulations on making it to the end of the alphabet!  Learn to read, and the world can be yours.

[Pictures: Hand-colored woodcut from Pictured Alphabet published by Fisher & Brother, c 1857 (Image from University of Washington);
Hand-colored woodcut from The Ladder to Learning, Marks’ Edition, 1852 (Image from Project Gutenberg);
Wood block print from The Silver Penny, printed by J. Kendrew, 1810 (Image from Internet Archive);
Wood block print from The Royal Primer, printed for J. Newbery, c 1776 (Image from Internet Archive);
Woodcut probably by Orlando Jewitt from The Picture Alphabet published by T. Richardson, c 1834 (Image from Opie, The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book);
Hand-colored wood block print from The Funny Alphabet, published by McLoughlin Bro’s,  between 1850-1864 (Image from Internet Archive);
Hand-colored woodcut from The Hobby-Horse published by J. Harris, 1820 (Image from Opie, A Nursery Companion).]


Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

My word for the day, too :-) Great challenge!

An A-Z of Faerie: Grogoch

Lisa said...

The dunce looks happy! I like those donkeys. I wouldn't have imagined that there would have been any Z! You did a great job!

Deborah Weber said...

What a wonderful tour of Z Anne. I'm thinking maybe Zany the fool might enjoy having an egghead like Humpty as a friend.

I thoroughly enjoyed your challenge series - thanks for adding to the delight of April!

Anonymous said...

Bravo on completing this year's A to Z Challenge. Loved your entertaining and educational posts. I will happily bookmark this site as I intend to catch up on your older posts, as well as your new ones.

Kristin said...

Zany is a nice one! I went to your link of rhymes and found I'd made a comment on that one too. Congratulations on finishing in such a zany way.

Wes said...

Don't know why that last post said anonymous. It was from your pal from the Drawing the Monster Manual.

Anne M Bray said...

Zounds! Zany for the win!
Congrats on finishing. Really great A-Z.

Frédérique said...

Zani is great to end this fun theme! I enjoyed a lot to read these rhymes, as I didn't know a lot of them. And your illustrations are so beautiful!
Z is for Zakka

John Holton said...

Your poem about Zaccheus reminded me of a song from childhood... https://youtu.be/Xx6UwY7ZoFU

Congratulations on completing the A to Z Challenge! This was an intersting series...

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Lisa, it's true, most of these zanies look quite happy, which you wouldn't necessarily expect.

Deborah, I think it was the Cheshire Cat who said "We're all mad here," so probably Humpty and the Zany would get along just fine!

Kristin, thanks for being my oldest and most loyal A to Z Challenge visitor! =)

Wes, thanks for stopping by, anonymous or not.

John, your song reminded me that my kids were taught another Zaccheus song in Sunday School: "Zaccheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he..."

Narayana Rao K.V.S.S. said...

Thank you for the comment on my Z post.
ZF Friedrichshafen - Industrial Engineering Activities and Jobs - Value Engineering - Supply Chain Cost Reduction Strategy
I liked your post on Zany. Learned more about rhymes. I shall visit all the blog posts and learn. I also try to write some free verse. Your comment prompted me to visit more blogs now it self.
My theme got good acceptance from professional groups. Now I am trying to make the posts still more useful.
IE practice in Top Global Engineering Companies.
Industrial Engineering Practice in Top Global Manufacturing Companies - Top 100

Jade Li said...

Anne, I have thoroughly enjoyed your walk through the alphabet via nursery rhymes.

Sonia Dogra said...

Great post. Great theme. Congratulations for acing it!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

Congratulations on completing the challenge! I enjoyed your theme, and loved your own illustrations :) I hope you'll join again next year!

The Multicolored Diary

Jai said...

Congratulations on completing this year's A to Z challenge. Z is indeed a tough letter. And thanks for reading my posts. Keep in touch.

Jenny said...

Congratulations on a great finish! I've never heard zany used as a noun, and I'm glad to know the meaning behind it. Fun post! I really enjoyed your challenge.

Kathe W. said...

Great Z post! You did a great job with all the research and on time posting! Take care and be well!

Stuart Nager said...

Hi Anne: congratulations on surviving another AtoZ. It comes across that you had a lot of fun with this.
With the Z posting, it does seem to fit in the foolish person subgenre of stories. I tell a number of (The Wise Men of) Chelm stories, both written or ones I've concocted. I don't think I've ever come across a Chelm alphabet. I'm going to take a swing at this. With your comment that none of the rhymes have a purpose besides filling the hole the letter digs, I'm going to try to link them in a chain story.

Thanks for the inspiration. Again, congrats for making it to the end

Dragons & Spaceships said...

I have a whole new understanding of Zany. Thanks for the nursery rhyme posts, very fun. - Dragons & Spaceships

Sue Bursztynski said...

I have heard the word as a noun, but didn’t know it cam3 from Giovanni, let alone that it was a sort of Jack reference! Jacks seem to be in most folklores, don’t they?

Congratulations on getting through the Challenge, and so entertainingly!

Unknown said...

Oh my goodness, Anne, this is fabulous. Because you visited The Glorious of Tea With Stepheny, I am returning the call. I'm knocked over with the appearance of the blog and just now being to read the AtoZ challenge posts. You are one impressive gal. I love what I am seeing and fully appreciate the amount of time and talent you put into the #Challenge and the blog. The clarity of your page seems flawless to me. The content is amazing. I am now following you by e-mail. Seeing your work is a great gift from this year's participation. I lift a glass of Sweet Tea to you and your creative self. Cheers! Stepheny Houghtlin

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for all the comments and congratulations, everyone!

Csenge, I've already got some possible themes planned for next year...

Stuart, I'm honored to have been able to provide some inspiration. I'd love to see what you come up with!

Sue, Jacks certainly seem to show up throughout all the European stories. I don't know so much about folklore from Africa or Asia, for example, but I wouldn't be surprised if the different cultures had their own Jack-equivalents.

Stepheny, I'm blushing! =)

See you all next year! (Or of course feel free to stop by any time. Up next I'm planning to post some stay-at-home art activities, and I also have some interviews with other authors and artists in the works.)

Pax said...

Thanks so much for these witty, informative, artistic, and just plain enjoyable A to Z entries. It's been a real pleasure as well as educational (and every alphabet of nursery rhymes ought be educational, right?).

Srivalli Rekha said...

Congratulations on completing the challenge. Zany sounds like a fun word and to think it came from something that came another which again came from something. Phew!
I like the picture of the dunce with his wand(?) and the hat. He's happiest among them all. :)

James Pailly said...

I never would have guess zany used to be a noun! I kind of want to see the noun version of zany revived.

Shari Elder said...

Happy Z! Congratulations on completing the challenge. You did a great set. I enjoyed it.