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The clown brothers Albert, François and Paul Fratellini, of the famous Italian Fratellini family, in 1932


From Middle French zani, zanni, from Italian zanni (a kind of masked clown character), from Zanni, a dialectal form of Giovanni.


  • IPA(key): /ˈzeɪni/
    • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪni
  • Hyphenation: za‧ny


zany (comparative zanier, superlative zaniest)

  1. Unusual and awkward in a funny, comical manner; outlandish; clownish.
    • 1986, John le Carré, A Perfect Spy:
      And I will admit now but never then that, more than once, listening to the Viennese chattering their zany German on the pavements, or taking himself to one of the struggling small theatres that were cropping up in cellars and bombed houses...
    • 1999, Alyn Shipton, “Gillespiana”, in Groovin' High: The Life of Dizzy Gillespie, Oxford: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 293:
      Press articles emphasized his [Dizzy Gillespie's] ambassadorial role and drew attention to the paradox that he was a shrewd musician and leader despite his zany image.
    • 2000, Alan H. Levy, Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist, Jefferson, N.C.: London: McFarland & Company, →ISBN, page 241:
      When playing for Connie Mack, Rube [Waddell]'s pattern after one of his zany outbursts usually involved promises of good behavior and a spurt of excellent pitching.
    • 2013, William Paul, “No Escaping the Depression: Utopian Comedy and the Aesthetics of Escapism in Frank Capra's You Can't Take it with You (1938)”, in Andrew Horton and Joanna E. Rapf, editors, A Companion to Film Comedy, Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, →ISBN, page 280:
      This runs counter to the play, where Grandpa is always benignly indulgent of all his zany progeny and their equally zany spouses, and is even somewhat zany himself.
    • 2015, Kimberly D. Nettles-Barcelón, “The Sassy Black Cook and the Return of the Magic Negress: Popular Representations of Black Women's Food Work”, in Jennifer Jensen Wallach, editor, Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop: Rethinking African American Foodways from Slavery to Obama, Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press, →ISBN, page 117:
      The montage goes on to show scenes of Carla singing, dancing, meditating, breaking the tension amongst her co-cheftestants with sing-a-longs and “hootie-hoo” lessons, and ultimately wooing the judges with a combination of her zany personality and solid cooking skills.
  2. Ludicrously or incongruously comical.


Derived terms[edit]



zany (plural zanies)

  1. (obsolete) A fool or clown, especially one whose business on the stage is to imitate foolishly the actions of the principal clown.
    • a. 1631, John Donne, Epistle to Mr. I. W.
      Then write that I may follow, and so be / Thy echo, thy debtor, thy foil, thy zany.
    • 1728, Pope, Alexander, “Book III”, in The Dunciad:
      O great restorer of the good old stage, / Preacher at once, and Zany of thy age!
    • 1898, J. Meade Falkner, Moonfleet Chapter 4
      So there he caught me lying like a zany on the ground. You may guess I stood at attention soon enough, but told him I was looking at the founds to see if they wanted underpinning from the floods.
    • 1996, Fiona Haslam, From Hogarth to Rowlandson: Medicine in Art in Eighteenth-century Britain, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, →ISBN, page 69:
      Part of the illusory world is the 'quack' or mountebank who can be seen standing on his own special platform in the centre of the crowd []. Such a person travelled round to fairs and markets selling his nostrums or medicines. This character is dressed in a lace hat, long periwig and embroidered coat with lace cuffs, and is attended by his zany, who is wearing a chequered harlequin outfit and is 'quacking' or 'puffing' his master's wares. No seventeenth- or eighteenth-century mountebank was complete without his zany or 'Merry Andrew' – a term originally applied to Dr Andrew Boorde, physician to Henry VIII and noted for his ready wit and humour, who was the subject of many broadside ballads.


zany (third-person singular simple present zanies, present participle zanying, simple past and past participle zanied)

  1. (obsolete) To mimic foolishly.