8

Zzz's are often used in comics or cartoons to mean sleeping, or snoring.

Is this meaning understood widely in the world, or just western/english-speaking cultures?

5
  • 1
    You have to be more specific. Languages that don't contain the letter z in their alphabet certainly cannot express sleeping with zzz. But I wouldn't be surprised if they express it with some other onomatopoetic symbol in their language, assuming their alphabet allows for that.
    – Jason Bassford
    Jul 11 '20 at 1:58
  • 2
    @Greybeard, the question can be reformulated as a question about English: should we think of zzzz in comics as a word of English language (which would be supported by other languages using different strings of letters for that purpose)?
    – jsw29
    Jul 11 '20 at 22:16
  • 1
    I maintain that there is nothing much onomatopoetic about zzzz. If it's supposed to be a hissing sound, I can only say I've not heard anyone hiss in their sleep. It's definitely not snoring, which most other examples given so far would allude to. Although sn-, with a hissing sound, seems to be overly represented in sniffing, snorkling (s)nose words, this might be coincidental, if not originally sound-symbolic. Rather, I've seen it alleged that zzz developed from a reduced drawing of a see-saws saw-teeth, the see-saw in action being a visual pun for a comparable repetitive noise
    – vectory
    Jul 19 '20 at 10:42
  • @vectory Feel free to add an answer to that effect!
    – aaaidan
    Jul 20 '20 at 23:22
  • As I said, it is only hear-say.
    – vectory
    Jul 21 '20 at 9:54
12

ZZZ: Zzz is an onomatopoeic representation of snoring. It was commonly used in media where sound effects were not an option, notably in comic books. That’s where it got its association with sleeping, even though it wasn’t the only device used to symbolize snoring. [Grammarly]

It's widely understood in most languages due to the spread of comics.

Different languages use different symbols/alphabets as variants of English ZZZ.

Here's a short list of some languages and the variants of ZZZ they use:

Japanese use the following different variants of zzz:

  • グーグー or クゥクゥ (gu-gu) -すーすー (suu-suu)
  • ぐーぐー (gu-gu)
  • うらうら (ura-ura)
  • クゥ クゥ (ku-ku) etc.

Russians use Хррp-пщщщ.

Norwegians and South Africans use snork.

In Finnish, they use krooh-pyyh.

Chinese use 呼噜 (hu-lu).

In Urdu, it's خر خر

Koreans use De reu rung.

Polish use chrrr-pśśś.

German use Chrrr/ rah-pü/ schnarch.

Vietnamese use khò khò.

Indonesians use groookkkk.

In Israel, they use xrrrr.

Arabic people use اخخ.

In Iraq, they use خ خ خ

Hungarians use horkol.

Turkish use hor.

French and Spanish use Ron pchi.

Bulgarian use Hurrrrr.

In Bengali, they use ghon-ghon.

In Hindi, it's घोर-घोर.

In Czech it's CHRRRR.

Reference: Cross-linguistic onomatopoeias - Wikipedia

2
  • I've never seen "ron pchi" in Spanish.
    – Charo
    May 29 at 17:34
  • 1
    Note that a lot of these are not exactly equivalent to zzz – unlike the z’s, these are actual onomatopoeia. Some of them are also just the regular noun/verb meaning ‘snore’ (e.g., 打呼噜 dǎ hūlu is the regular verb meaning ‘to snore’ in Mandarin, and snork is the regular Danish and Norwegian noun meaning ‘snore’). Many of them coexist with zzz in comics and can even be used in speech to feign disinterest (just like ‘yawn’ or ‘snore’ in English); if you actually said [zːː] in English speech, you’d sound like you were imitating a fly, not a snore. Oct 25 at 0:11
6

In the following extract from Why Does Z Stand for Snoring? from washingtoncitypaper.com the author suggests that other countries use other onomatopoeic sounds to represent sleep/snoring, but also that “like so many other effusions of American pop culture, (zzzz) is in common use worldwide.“

Germans use “chrrr,” which considering the typical German pronunciations of ch and r—i.e., you sound like you’re getting ready to use the spittoon—is a lot closer to snoring than “zzz.”

The French, who also favor a sonically rich r, use “rrroooo,” “rrr,” “roon,” “ron,” and so on. The Spanish likewise use “rooooon.”

The Japanese use characters that transliterate as “guu guu,” while speakers of Mandarin Chinese use characters sounding like “hu lu.”

Finns use “kroohpyyh,” which I’m guessing gives a hint of what I sound like.

3
  • 1
    You probably don't want to put Chinese and Japanese in the same sentence about their languages - it might lead people to believe that they are related. Finnish and German are more closely related phonologically than Japanese and Chinese.
    – Mitch
    Jul 11 '20 at 20:43
  • My German girlfriend swears that I snore with a German 'zzzz' – i.e. a sound like [tssss]. I take her word for it. Jul 20 '20 at 20:08
  • In Spanish there exists the onomatopoeic verb "ronronear" used for the sound similar to snoring that cats produce, but won't say "rooooon" is a common way to represent snoring. I've sometimes seen "rrrrrr" or "jrrrrr".
    – Charo
    May 29 at 17:56
1

In German comics snoring is often not spelled out with letters, but there is a pictogram used: A handsaw and a piece of wood inside the speech bubble.

1
  • The saw is not uniquely German. I read that zzzz had first been a simplified drawing to represented the saw teeth, many decades ago. The article is not well referenced so there's no use linking it up, but it is the only reasonable explanation because /z:/, /zed/, /zi:/ do not sound anything like snoring, not at all. The sound of a wood saw does. That the Japanese variants happen to look edgy too might be coincidence, クゥクゥ. Can't imagine a more interesting topic to be honest.
    – vectory
    Feb 1 at 15:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.