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The Collector: Going Backwards

How Mack McCormick put the z before the y and created z-y-d-e-c-o

"Did you know I was in the Oxford Unabridged?" asks McCormick. "I coined the spelling for the word 'zydeco.' Z-Y is mine."

When the music was first trickling out of Fifth Ward, there were numerous phonetic spellings for the French words les haricots, from which the music is named: zodico, zologo, zordico and zideco, to name a few. Then McCormick came along and sorted things out.

"When I was a kid I looked at the end of the dictionary — I don't know why. There were these words like 'zymurgy' back there."

McCormick was drawn to the backwards combination of Z coming before Y, and came up with 'zydeco' and put it on an album he recorded.

"I used that spelling in the liner notes, so scholars picked up on it and passed it around," he says. "Second, a printer here named Fred Johnson started using the spelling on the posters he printed all around town. And then the Louisiana tourism industry picked up on it. They started calling their music 'zydeco,' which is inaccurate because it was an invention of Fifth Ward.

"Everybody likes that Z-Y combination," he continues. "I always liked it, but I had never had an opportunity to use it. I used to want to have a T-shirt that just said 'ZY.'"

 
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