• zigzag •
Pronunciation: zig-zæg • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: A line or course that proceeds by sharp turns in alternating opposite directions.
Notes: Today's Good Word is another instance of a rhyming compound, a compound with a similar word attached to it for various reasons. It is accompanied by an adjective, zigzaggy, and a less often used noun, zigzaggery. It can be used equally as a noun or a verb, as "He zigzagged his way down the field toward the goal line."
In Play: The zigzag is a common figure that we find in many places: "The writing spider, as the graphic graphically depicts, weaves a zigzag into her web." Let's not forget that this word works just as well as a verb: "Juan Trippe caught the pass, but as he zigzagged down the field, he zigged when he should have zagged and stumbled over his own feet."
Word History: English acquired this word from French as usual. The French spelling of German Zickzack "zigzag" would be zic-zac, so it is a safe assumption that French borrowed it from German, though there is a problem with dates. Now, German Zacke means "prong, jag", as in jagged edge, from Middle High German zacke "point, nail". The ancestor of Old High German zacke came down to English as tack. The Zick was another instance of a rhyming compound, as mentioned above, apparently added to indicate the repetition of a jagged line. (We will not zigzag around an expression of our gratitude to Eric Berntson for suggesting today's Good Word.)