Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A ludicrous, buffoonish character in old comedies who attempts feebly to mimic the tricks of the clown.
  • n. A comical person given to extravagant or outlandish behavior.
  • adj. Ludicrously comical; clownish.
  • adj. Comical because of incongruity or strangeness; bizarre.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. ludicrously or incongruously comical
  • adj. bizarre, clownish
  • n. A fool or clown.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A merry-andrew; a buffoon.
  • transitive v. To mimic.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To play the zany to; mimic; imitate apishly.
  • n. A comic performer, originating on the Italian stage, whose function it is to make awkward attempts at mimicking the tricks of the professional clown, or the acts of other performers; hence, an apish buffoon in general; a merry-andrew; an amusing fool.
  • n. . An attendant.
  • n. Synonyms Clown, Fool, Buffoon, Mimic, Zany. “The zany in Shakespere's day was not so much a buffoon and mimic as the obsequious follower of a buffoon and the attenuated mime of a mimic. He was the vice, servant, or attendant of the professional clown or fool, who, dressed like his master, accompanied him on the stage or in the ring, following his movements, imitating his tricks. and adding to the general merriment by his ludicrous failures and comic imbecility … The professional clown or fool might be clever and accomplished in his business, a skilful tumbler and mountebank, doing what he undertook to do thoroughly and well. But this was never the case with the zany. He was always slight and thin, well-meaning, but comparatively helpless, full of readiness, grimace, and alacrity, but also of incompetence. eagerly trying to imitate his superior, but ending in failure and absurdity … We have ourselves seen the clown and the zany in the ring together, the clown doing clever tricks, the zany provoking immense laughter by his ludicrous failures in attempting to imitate them. Where there is only a single clown. he often combines both the characters, doing skilful tumbling on his own account, and playing the zany to the riders.” (Edinburgh Rev., July, 1869, art. 4.)

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a man who is a stupid incompetent fool
  • adj. like a clown
  • n. a buffoon in one of the old comedies; imitates others for ludicrous effect
  • adj. ludicrous, foolish

Etymologies

French zani, from Italian dialectal zanni, from Zanni, variant of Italian Gianni, nickname for Giovanni, John, the name of servants who act as clowns in commedia dell'arte.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Italian zanni (a kind of masked clown character), itself (when capitalized) a dialectal form of Giovanni. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The former Massachusetts governor has been going negative on Gingrich, using the word "zany" in a New York Times interview Wednesday to make the point that whoever GOP voters choose as their White House nominee will need to have "sobriety."

    News

  • "I don't know too many people who use the word 'zany,'" Axelrod told Fox News'

    NYDN Rss

  • Gingrich's remarks at the Republican debate Thursday night were aimed at rival Mitt Romney, who in an interview on Wednesday used the word "zany" to describe the former House speaker.

    The Seattle Times

  • Many images involve cute little medicine pills, pieces of candy, or sushi rolls gen-bap engaging in zany hijinks and speaking in talk-bubbles.

    Boing Boing: August 28, 2005 - September 3, 2005 Archives

  • Those reported to have lost houses in the community dubbed "America's Riviera" included actor Christopher Lloyd, best known as the zany scientist in "Back to the Future".

    Signs of the Times

  • Those reported to have lost houses in the community dubbed "America's Riviera" include actor Christopher Lloyd, best known as zany scientist Doc Brown in the Back To The Future films.

    undefined

  • Those reported to have lost houses in the community dubbed "America's Riviera" included actor Christopher Lloyd, best known as the zany scientist in the "Back to the Future" movies.

    Top Stories - Google News

  • That he would use this term, as well as the equally condescending "zany" in referring to this latter comedy makes his valuation of it clear enough, but later he also remarks that "Evelyn Waugh, alas, still represents the great image of English comedy in the 20th century, rather than his subtler and gentler contemporary, Henry Green."

    Comedy in Literature

  • It can be "zany" or not (Beckett is zany in Waiting for Godot, not in How It Is or The Unnameable, but the effect is the same).

    Comedy in Literature

  • Oh boy more "zany" exploits from the annoying mom character.

    Witwicky Parents Return for Transformers 3 | /Film

Wordnik is becoming a not-for-profit! Read our announcement here.

Comments

Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • That sentence is equally true when preceded by the words "Calling your opponent..."

    December 15, 2011

  • “Zany is not what we need in a president.” - Mitt Romney, talking about Newt Gingrich.

    “Zany is great in a campaign. It’s great on talk radio. It’s great in print, it makes for fun reading,” Mr. Romney told The New York Times. “But in terms of a president, we need a leader, and a leader needs to be someone who can bring Americans together.”

    thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com

    December 14, 2011

  • That actually seems to be the oldest usage: the OED dates it to 1588. There's also an obsolete verb form meaing to imitate (like a zany), and the OED defines zanyism as 'the character or style of a zany; action or language like that of a zany' with citations from the early 19th Century, and zanyship as 'the condition or character of a zany' with attestation in 1766.

    September 28, 2008

  • Never heard of it used as a noun before!

    I learned something today, much joy. ^^

    September 25, 2008