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zigzag, n., adj., and adv.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/ˈzɪɡzaɡ/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/ˈzɪɡˌzæɡ/
Forms:  Also as two words or with hyphen; also 1700s zic-zac, zigzac(k, ziczag.(Show Less)
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Etymology: < French zigzag (1680 in Hatzfeld & Darmesteter); ultimate origin unknown; partly symbolic, the two different vowels suggesting the two different directions. Compare German zickzack   (Sperander, 1727), said to be first used of fortifications (sense A. 3a).
 A. n.

 a. A series of short lines inclined at angles in alternate directions; a line or course having sharp turns of this kind; concrete something characterized by such lines or turns. Originally in in zigzag (= French en zigzag).

1712   J. James tr. A.-J. Dézallier d'Argenville Theory & Pract. Gardening 42   Steps of Grass laid in Zic-Zac [Note, The French call this an Allée en Zic-Zac, for its Likeness to a Machine so called].
1712   J. James tr. A.-J. Dézallier d'Argenville Theory & Pract. Gardening 215   Chevrons, or Checks of Grass in Zig-Zac.
1728   E. Chambers Cycl. at Alley   An Alley in Ziczac, is that which has too great a Descent.
1822   J. Parkinson Outl. Oryctol. 139   The larger tubercles placed in zig-zag.
1892   E. Reeves Homeward Bound 299   Entering by the beautiful Gate of Justice, and winding in zigzag through the thickness of the tower.
1766   G. Colman & D. Garrick Clandestine Marriage ii. ii. 28   Here's none of your strait lines here—but all taste—zig-zag—crinkum-crankum—in and out.
1830   M. Donovan Domest. Econ. I. vii. 235   Twisted into a serpent, or bent into a zig-zag.
1856   C. Merivale Hist. Romans under Empire IV. xl. 495   The other [road] was practicable for carriages, and for this purpose was made to climb the acclivity with a zigzag.
1871   A. Nesbitt Catal. Slade Coll. Glass 6   Terminating with a turquoise zig-zag.
1880   G. Meredith Tragic Comedians II. iii. 36   Dashing his finger in a fiery zig-zag along the line for her pen to follow.
1884   J. Ruskin Pleasures Eng. (1885) iii. §87. 121   The hieroglyphic use of the zigzag, for water, by the Egyptians.

1712—1892(Hide quotations)


 b. Each of such lines or turns: chiefly in plural.

1743   A. Pope Dunciad (rev. ed.) i. 124   Nonsense precipitate, like running Lead, That slip'd thro' Cracks and Zig-zags of the Head.
1775   R. Twiss Trav. Portugal & Spain 64   A winding road, which forms thirteen zig-zags.
1833   L. Ritchie Wanderings by Loire 182   A cap, laced and ribanded in all manner of zig-zags.
a1861   A. H. Clough Poems & Prose Remains (1869) II. 291   The lightning zigzags shoot across the sky.
1865   G. MacDonald Alec Forbes lxxiv   The button made many a zigzag from side to side of the table.
1875   A. W. Bennett & W. T. T. Dyer tr. J. von Sachs Text-bk. Bot. 742   The grand curve of growth..does not assume the form of a continuous curve, but shows a number of small zigzags.

1743—1875(Hide quotations)


 c. figurative.

1782   W. Cowper Conversation in Poems 255   Though such continual zigzags in a book, Such drunken reelings have an aukward look.
1796   E. Burke Two Lett. Peace Regicide Directory France in Wks. (1842) II. 311   The fanaticks going straight forward and openly, the politicians by the surer mode of zigzag.
1816   J. Austen Emma I. xv. 282   The little zigzags of embarrassment.  View more context for this quotation
1913   T. Roosevelt Autobiogr. 579   Our policy is apt to go in zigzags, because different sections of our people exercise at different times unequal pressure on our government.

1782—1913(Hide quotations)


 2. A road or path turning sharply at angles in alternate directions, esp. so as to reduce the gradient on a steep slope; each of the sharp turns forming such a road.

a1745   J. Swift My Lady's Lament. in Wks. (1765) VIII. ii. 184   How proudly he talks Of zigzacks and walks.
1848   W. M. Thackeray Bk. Snobs vi. 24   I thread the doubtful zig-zags of May Fair.
1855   H. Alford Jrnl. 19 Aug. in Life, Jrnls. & Lett. (1873) vii. 250   Up the valley of the Adour, to Arreau, a village approached by zigzags.
1890   ‘R. Boldrewood’ Colonial Reformer xiii   Many years before the Zig Zag [sc. railway in New South Wales] was chopped out of the sidelings.

a1745—1890(Hide quotations)

 3. Applied spec. to other things of a zigzag shape.

 a. Fortification. A trench leading towards a besieged place, constructed in a zigzag direction so as not to be enfiladed by the defenders; a boyau.

1733   E. Budgell Bee IV. 67   A Battery began in the Morning to play upon the Cavalier of the Bastion Ghiera; the Night following the Zic-zacs were continued.
1834   J. S. Macaulay Treat. Field Fortification 223   The zig-zags may often require a greater relief than the parallels.

1733—1834(Hide quotations)


 b. Architecture. A chevron-moulding.

1814   W. Scott Border Antiq. I. 59   The dancette, as the figure is termed in heraldry, or zig-zag.
1826   W. A. Miles Descr. Deverel Barrow 4   The chevron or zig zag, that favorite British ornament so prominent in Egyptian remains.
1884   J. Ruskin Pleasures Eng. (1885) iii. §87. 119   The Norman zigzag.

1814—1884(Hide quotations)


 c. Fisheries. (See quot.)

a1877   E. H. Knight Pract. Dict. Mech. III. 2829/1   Zigzag,..2. A winding chute on the face of a dam to enable fish to ascend.

a1877—a1877(Hide quotations)


 4. Collectors' name for a shell, or a moth, with zigzag marking.

1815   S. Brookes Introd. Conchol. 157   Zigzag, Cypræa Ziczac.

1815—1815(Hide quotations)


 5. (  Zig-Zag n. (also Zig Zag) .) A proprietary name for cigarette paper.

1909   Official Gaz. (U.S. Patent Office) 14 Dec. 594/1   Braunstein & Cie, Paris... Zig Zag... Cigarette-paper.
1927   Trade Marks Jrnl. 13 Apr. 675   Zig-zag No. 114... Cigarette papers. Société anonyme des anciens Établissements Braustein Frères.., Paris.
1968   Current Slang (Univ. S. Dakota) Fall 52   Zig-zag, paper of high quality which is commonly used in rolling marijuana.
1977   C. McFadden Serial (1978) xxx. 67/1   She stuffed her..Zig Zags back into her purse.

1909—1977(Hide quotations)

 B. adj.

 a. Having the form of a zigzag; turning sharply at angles in alternate directions; characterized by turns of this kind.

1752   A. Dobbs in Philos. Trans. 1749–50 (Royal Soc.) 46 543   Striking it with a wriggling Motion from Side to Side, in a zigzag Way.
1769   W. Hamilton in Philos. Trans. 1768 (Royal Soc.) 58 11   Flashes of forked, or zig-zag lightning.
1785   W. Cowper Task ii. 364   He..transforms old print To zig-zag manuscript.
1792   W. Wordsworth Descr. Sketches 236   Up from the lake a zigzag path will creep.
1836   C. Dickens Sketches by Boz 1st Ser. II. 187   Away jogs the boat in a zigzag direction.
1860   J. Tyndall Glaciers of Alps i. ii. 11   A kind of zigzag channel had been worn on the side of the mountain.
1798   T. J. Mathias Pursuits of Lit. (ed. 7) 327   Be regular: from A to B proceed; I hate your zig-zag verse, and wanton heed.
1861   J. Pycroft Ways & Words 192   The old joke of the zigzag jury who said ‘Guilty’ and ‘Not guilty’ alternately, all through the assizes.
1863   C. C. Clarke Shakespeare-characters vi. 145   All the brood of zig-zag politicians.
1897   G. J. Goschen in Hansard's Parl. Deb. 4th Ser. 47 597   Our policy is to have as little of the zigzag policy..as possible.

1752—1897(Hide quotations)


 b. Architecture. Applied to a moulding or other ornament of a zigzag pattern: cf. A. 3b.

1765   T. Gray Let. in Corr. (1971) II. 864   The chevron work (or zig-zag moulding).
1815   T. Rickman in J. Smith Panorama Sci. & Art I. 136   Channels in various forms, some plain zigzag, some like net-work, and some spiral.
1840   C. Wordsworth Greece 58   Columns of green basalt, with fantastic zigzag ornaments.

1765—1840(Hide quotations)


 c. Botany. Applied to the stem of a plant, or to a plant having such a stem.

1793   T. Martyn Lang. Bot. sig. Y2   Zigzag, used by some English writers for Flexuose.
1796   W. Withering Arrangem. Brit. Plants (ed. 3) III. 579   Zigzag Ladies smock.
1819   A. Rees Cycl. XXXIX   Zigzag Trefoil,..a term sometimes applied by farmers to the perennial red clover, marl grass, or wild red clover.

1793—1819(Hide quotations)


 2. Having zigzag markings. (Chiefly Natural History.)

1785   J. Latham Gen. Synopsis Birds III. i. 61   Zigzag Bittern.
1796   P. A. Nemnich Allgemeines Polyglotten-Lex. 946   Zigzag chama, Venus castrensis.

1785—1796(Hide quotations)


 3. Military slang (chiefly U.S.). Drunk. Now rare.

1916   Gasper (18th, 19th, 20th, & 21st Royal Fusiliers) 29 Apr.   A Tommy went over to Arques Beaucoup zigzag and out for a larques.
1917   B.E.F. Times 10 Apr. 3/1   She..replied with emotion 'Bosch officier, no ben, plenty zig-zag​'.
1918   in C. Hamilton & L. Corbin Echoes from over There (1919) 125   He got a trifle zig-zag.
1923   E. Paul Impromptu 149   He groped and floundered..not completely ‘zigzag’.
1965   S. Linakis In Spring War Ended i. 24   I wanted to stay zigzag, but the silliness was out of me.

1916—1965(Hide quotations)

 C. adv.

  In a zigzag manner or direction.

1754   E. Burt Lett. N. Scotl. II. xx. 132   It is almost incredible..how nimbly they skip,..turning Zic Zac to such Places as are passable.
1765   R. Veicht in Philos. Trans. 1764 (Royal Soc.) 54 287   The lightening is observed to run not in strait line, but zig zag.
1846   W. Greener Sci. Gunnery (new ed.) 244   When he ignites a rocket, it may go straight forward, or zig-zag.
1862   H. Beveridge Comprehensive Hist. India III. viii. iv. 374   The road..led zig~zag up the side of a precipitous mountain.

1754—1862(Hide quotations)



 C1. zigzag-shaped adj.; zigzag fashion, zigzag-wise quasi-adverbs.

1758   O. Goldsmith tr. J. Marteilhe Mem. Protestant II. 129   A Way very commodious cut, Zigzag Fashion.
1846   F. Brittan tr. J. F. Malgaigne Man. Operative Surg. 236   The interline is zigzag shaped.
1877   T. H. Huxley & H. N. Martin Course Elem. Biol. (ed. 4) 26   Its joints are bent zig-zag-wise.

1758—1877(Hide quotations)


  zigzag connection   n. Electrical Engineering a form of star connection of three-phase circuits, each branch of which is interconnected and contains portions of two consecutive phases.

1922   P. Kemp Alternating Current Electr. Engin. (ed. 2) xiii. 188   This affects the magnetising current and may result in an appreciable increase in iron loss owing to flux distortion, and to minimize this effect zig-zag connections are sometimes adopted.
1947   R. Lee Electronic Transformers & Circuits iii. 47   Unbalanced direct current in the half-wave rectifiers requires larger transformers than in the full-wave rectifiers. This is partly overcome in three-phase transformers by the use of zigzag connections.

1922—1947(Hide quotations)


  zigzag machine   n. a sewing machine with a swing needle that may be used to produce a zigzag stitch and decorative stitches derived from it.

[1950   Vogue Pattern Bk. Apr. 81/2   It was Pfaff that developed the famous Zig-Zag Model 130.]
1952   Consumers' Res. Bull. Sept. 11/1   All the zig-zag machines but one..were heavy.
1963   Which? June 165/2   For plain zig zag machines, the width of the stitch limits the range of patterns they can make.
1978   Detroit Free Press 5 Mar. d14 (advt.)    Fashionmate zig zag machine featuring our front drop-in bobbin.

1952—1978(Hide quotations)


This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1921; most recently modified version published online December 2022).

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