To “zigzag” is to move by going first in one direction and then in a different direction, and repeating the movements, as in: “We zigzagged through crowds of tourists.”

A zigzag might also be defined as a series of short straight lines, set at angles to one another and connected to form a continuous line, sometimes forming a regular pattern.

The origin of the term is unknown, though it seems to have come into English from Continental Europe. In 1706, the Dutch author Roelof Roukema published Book of Medicine and Healers. This contains the line (loosely translated): “some in the suburb of St. Germain move zig zag.” The German word ‘zickzack’ dates from around the same time and is known from 1727. That usage referred to the fortifications of castles, the walls of which were sometimes built in zig-zag form.

Soon the term to begin to be used figuratively, in reference to any continual changes. For example, in William Cowper’s Conversation, 1781: “Though such continual zig-zags in a book, Such drunken reelings, have an awkward look.”

Examples of zigzag use:

—Lightning and other electrical hazards are often depicted with a zigzag design.

—The trace of a triangle wave or a sawtooth wave is a zigzag.

—Pinking shears are designed to cut cloth with a zigzag edge, to lessen fraying.

—Zigzags are a basic decorative pattern used on pottery.

—The zigzag arch is an architectural embellishment.

—The stripe on Charlie Brown’s famous yellow shirt is a zigzag.

There is, apparently, a real Zig Zag Road in Liverpool, UK. 

Do you suppose that road zigzags? I hope so.

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