November 30, 2012 8:11 AM   Subscribe

What is the etymology of British nicknames ending in -zza/-zzer?

For example:
  • Jeremy Clarkson > Jezza
  • Paul Gascoigne > Gazza
  • Laurence Fox > Lozza
  • Bazzer in Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels

    I'm trying to figure out what sorts of names get this treatment, and what the cultural "rules" are for applying it. It appears largely to be done with men's names that start with a consonant, though Harry Styles of One Direction is called "Hazza," so a glottal consonant seems to be sufficient. Some experts-on-the-Internet say this is a Cockney pattern, but I thought Cockney nicknames were more descriptive of person or occupation.
  • posted by catlet to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
    It could be a corruption of the Oxford "-er"?

    The blog Separated by a Common Language notes that most commonly "the -zza ending is added to the first syllable of a name whose second syllable starts with an /r/" (which covers Jeremy, Laurence, and the one I see most commonly, Cheryl Tweedy / Chezza) while Gascoine to Gazza is simply "mak[ing] a -zza out of sibilant sounds."
    posted by bcwinters at 8:23 AM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

    I wonder if it may be more general than that. I read somewhere that David Tennant -- whose actual given name is David McDonald - used to be nicknamed "Macca", after the last name.

    So maybe there's just a general British tendancy to use the "-a" sound for diminutives, like we use the "-ee" sound instead ("Johnny" for John, "Kimmy" for Kim, etc.). So you get "Macca" from McDonald - and, "Gazza" from "Gascoigne", "Lozza" from "Laurence", and "Jezza" from "Jeremy."

    As to why the "z" sound for "Jeremy" and "Laurence" - well, "Lorra" for "Laurence" maybe sounds too much like a girl's name, and "Jerra" just sounds kind of weird.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:24 AM on November 30, 2012

    In my experience, it's the R that does it, except in cases like Gascoigne where the s is already present.

    Jeremy -> Jezza
    Laurence -> Lozza
    Barry -> Bazza
    posted by zamboni at 8:24 AM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

    I'm American and clueless about the etymology, but I can tell you at least one reference where it's done with a female name: Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary, in which the heroine's friend Sharon is often referred to as "Shazzer."

    I think bcwinters has it with the R sound. My "Shazzer" example above corroborates, as does your first three examples (and Harry Styles) above. I'm also reminded of Barry Kent in Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books, who often goes by "Baz."
    posted by dlugoczaj at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2012

    I see it as a mix of tabloid-headline populism (where a five letter word just fits in the measure) and football chant rhythm ("Gaz-za! Gaz-za!"). Could it have arisen from the signwriter's contraction for Charles (Chas.), and someone's jocular attempt to pronounce it?
    posted by scruss at 8:26 AM on November 30, 2012

    Now that I think about it, the Adrian Mole books indicate that the use of the Z for nicknames has been going on at least since the early 80s, though I don't know about the addition of the -a or -er. Not just Barry Kent, either--near the end of the first book, Adrian's dad oversees a clean-up crew of rowdy former juvenile delinquents, "Baz, Daz, Maz, Kev, Melv and Boz." Seems to be some kind of tough-guy indicator.
    posted by dlugoczaj at 8:30 AM on November 30, 2012

    Policemen are, of course, Rozzers. The etymology of which dates to 1893, may or may not have been polari, and I suspect predates the other "ozza/er" suffixes.

    If you're interested in the shortening of names, the technical term you want is hypocoristic.

    The appearance of "ozza" type nicknames was popularised by the red top papers and may have migrated off the football terraces. It and served several purposes: it saved space on the page, it created familiarity and it made everyone the common man. Sometimes ironically, to gently poke fun at them - Jezza for Jeremy Clarkson being a good example.

    Australians are the arch experts at this: shortening words or names and adding "o" at the end. Arvo, Salvo, Jacko etc.

    The other place where things get shortened quickly is the military and especially the Navy - sometimes for operational convenience and because it is an easy way to relieve boredom. Again, you find a few "zz" suffixes in there.
    posted by MuffinMan at 8:31 AM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

    On the female side, Caroline or Catherine can end up as Caz.

    It feels 80s-ish and tabloid-driven ('Hezza' for Michael Heseltine), perhaps with a bit of influence from the arrival of Australian daytime soaps. It exists in parallel to the "-ers" which is more Test Match Special. And I suppose the evolution of the playground taunt of the time, from "spastic" to "spaz" to "spazza", shows where the linguistic currents flow.
    posted by holgate at 8:39 AM on November 30, 2012

    Karen winds up as Kaz or Kazza. It's the "air" sound: Jeremy, Barry, Sharon, Karen, Caroline.
    posted by kestrel251 at 8:41 AM on November 30, 2012

    P.S. Australians do it too.
    posted by kestrel251 at 8:41 AM on November 30, 2012

    Oh wow. I went to high school with a British Karen who insisted on being called Kaz and I thought she was just eccentric.
    posted by 256 at 9:07 AM on November 30, 2012

    let's not forget Mozzer, which conforms to the both the "r", 80s and (music) tabloid associations.
    posted by bendybendy at 9:18 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

    Would Charles becoming Chas ('chazz') be an example of this? If so, then this has been around a long time.
    posted by marimeko at 9:26 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

    > I'm trying to figure out what sorts of names get this treatment

    Gary -> Gazz or Gazza
    posted by The corpse in the library at 9:29 AM on November 30, 2012

    New Zealander here.

    Two of my cousins are Muzza (Mark) and Dazza (Darren) so yep, the R. Went to school with Gazza.

    oh, but here you go. Also was friends with Puzza (Paul). No R there. Has to be an outlier somewhere, I guess.
    posted by gaspode at 9:40 AM on November 30, 2012

    It was enough of a thing in 1984 for the second series of Alfresco to have a Pretend Pub theme, with characters Bobzza (Robbie Coltrane), Shizza (Siobhan Redmond), Lord Stezza (Stephen Fry), Huzza (Hugh Laurie), Bezza (Ben Elton) and Ezza (Emma Thompson).
    posted by scruss at 11:08 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

    I don't really have a clue, but there may be a Dickensian connection.

    He's influential enough, particularly in the UK.
    posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:27 AM on November 30, 2012

    This was definitely a thing pre-1984, as I had a friend at Junior school called Caz (Caroline), and calling people Shaz, Baz and so on was a normal shortening. I have no idea what the etymology is, but it kind of became a joke and that's why you end up with Gazza and so on, where the ending is applied to names that don't fit the rule of R. I think there is an implied class aspect to this as well, with the assumption than working class people would use this shortening and middle and upper class types would only use it sarcastically.
    posted by Joh at 11:41 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

    It caught on in Britain in the 80s and 90s, and got taken up by some journalists as an ironic faux-working-class affectation. David Runciman wrote an article on Paul Gascoigne in the Modern Review in 1991 with the title 'Wazza Mazza Wiz Gazza?' I have the impression it's declined a bit since then; one sometimes sees Boris Johnson called 'Bozza' but it's not as widely used as it would have been twenty years ago.
    posted by verstegan at 12:18 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

    This pattern is a kind of strengthening, when a sound goes from 'weaker' to 'stronger'.* Sounds tend to go from stronger to weaker in a given context, but sometimes the opposite is true. In this case, it is the addition of the -a (most likely to make a diminutive or petname) to the first syllable of the name that provides the new context for the change, and the presence of the -r- is crucial. The -r- is now followed by a vowel where there wasn't one before, or a vowel of a different quality. Now -r- is a weak consonant, and -z- a stronger one, so we would expect the process not to work in this direction, and in most cases it doesn't. A -z- sound going to -r- is much more common, and has happened in many well-known languages, such as Latin and Germanic (hence why we have a pair like was and were). However, in this case the consonant is strengthening, not weakening. So, Barry > *Bara > Bazza. My brother is called Kerry, and many of his friends call him Kezza, showing the consonant change made by the -a. But one friend simply shortens the name and adds no -a, making Ker, showing no consonant change. The addition of a new final vowel is absolutely key.

    The other examples made from names without an -r- are likely consciously patterned on this, or made by those with no actual knowledge of the sound change involved. To somebody within a speech community where this happens, they know that Paul doesn't make Pozza, but an outsider doesn't understand why that is so and makes it anyway.

    *Why some sounds are weaker or stronger then others is complex, but search for "lenition" if you wish to know more.
    posted by Jehan at 12:47 PM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

    I don't know if it's related, but in Old English there was a cluster of words with r/s alternation — I mean that these words had an "r" in a certain place in some forms, but an "s" in the same place in other forms (and the orthographic "s" would be pronounced [z] between vowels, I think). For example, in the conjugation of ċēosan (to choose), some of the past tense forms have "r" where the present tense forms have "s". A similar verb is forlēosan (to lose), past participle forloren (which is the origin of Modern English forlorn). Before you posted this question, the only example of r/s alternation I knew of in Modern English was the pair was/were (which come from Old English wesan: iċ wæs, þū wǣre); but maybe this Larry/Lazza thing is the same phenomenon... whatever that phenomenon is.

    Oh, I see Jehan already mentioned was/were.
    posted by stebulus at 8:51 PM on November 30, 2012

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