About This Word

zill

[zil]

What does zill mean?

Zill can variously refer to a type of finger-cymbal used in belly dancing, different fictional characters in popular culture, or the indefinitely large number, zillion.

 

Where does zill come from?

Originating in the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean, zills are an instrument historically used for belly dancing, among other dance forms. Zills, from the Turkish (zil) for "cymbal," are indeed just that: two small, brass cymbals tied to a dancer's fingers by leather or elastic cords. A dancer traditionally uses four zills, two on each hand, and taps them together as a percussive and time-keeping accompaniment to the music, much like castanets.

While use of finger cymbals as such have a much longer history, use of zills has been noted as early as 500 CE and are still in use today in Middle Eastern dance. The term is recorded in English as early as the 1930s in an encyclopedia about Islamic culture. Drummers may be familiar with the term thanks to leading cymbal maker, Zildjian, which literally means "cymbal-smith."

While occasionally used as a familiar reference to the dinosaur-like monsters Godzilla or Zilla, Zill has been the proper name of a variety of characters, creatures, or places in creative fiction, video games, and webcomics. Some examples include the desolate Land of Zill, or Zill, in the 1958 Felix the Cat TV series, the 1999 role-playing video game Zill O'll ("Zillions of Wills"), a chimera named Zillion or Zill in the 2015 webcomic Zoophobia, the hero Zill in 2015 video game Arena of Valor, and the character Zill in the ongoing Legend of Zelda series. Although all named Zill, they do not have any specific traits in common—other than perhaps the distinctive appeal of the name Zill—and appear across very different media and fictional worlds.

In digital communication, especially online, zill has been used since at least the 2000s as a colloquial shortening of zillion, a casual term for a very large number recorded as early as the 1910s. The shortening appears to be in keeping with a larger trend of abbreviation in internet slang (e.g., totes (totally), brill (brilliant), or jelly (jealous)).

Who uses zill?

Forms of the original Turkish word zil are used in Turkey, Middle East, and Mediterranean dance cultures for the instrument and their music. Among Westerners, zill (one cymbal) or zills (the usual pair) can be used among those who study, practice, or are otherwise interested in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dance tradition, particularly belly dancing.

When referring to a name from various pop-culture works, Zill is used by fans of the work. The name is especially popular in fantasy-based media, and outside of established characters and the fan-fiction and fan-art they've inspired, some fantasy fans will author their own characters Zill or style their usernames after it. Zill is also sometimes used in humorous reference to Godzilla (e.g., a ferocious zillmonster).

Online, zill is occasionally employed as a casual way to referring to an enormous, but unspecified, number, typically noted of money.

For example

Just came up with a fast casual concept to make me a zill dollars: Bow-Thai, a Thai restaurant but with bow tie pasta in all the dishes

@CocoDavies, April, 2016

I got some time to make a quick drawimg [sic] of Kayla painting the pattern of a Candy cane on zill ^^ I will be working on some more stuff involving zoophobia characters~!

Psychotic Raynn, Amino, December, 2017

For years I studied belly dance, and a little ballet here and there. I spent every waking moment thinking of dance, new combinations, refining technique, and cultural nuances between the different styles, properly educating myself on music, costuming, and learning how to play zills.

Annwyn Avalon, The Water Witch, February, 2018

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