za·​ny | \ ˈzā-nē How to pronounce zany (audio) \
zanier; zaniest

Definition of zany

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : very eccentric (see eccentric entry 1 sense 1a) or absurd (see absurd entry 1 sense 1) often in an amusing way a zany comedy the movie's zany characters/antics/humor another one of his zany ideas
2 archaic : being or having the characteristics of a zany


plural zanies

Definition of zany (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a subordinate clown or acrobat in old comedies who mimics ludicrously the tricks of the principal : merry-andrew
2 archaic : a person who fawns over another person : a servile follower : toady … must have known the falsehood of the slander which they encouraged their zanies to propagate.— William Gifford
3a : one who acts the buffoon to amuse others
b : nut, kook

Other Words from zany


zanily \ ˈzā-​nə-​lē How to pronounce zany (audio) \ adverb
zaniness \ ˈzā-​nē-​nəs How to pronounce zany (audio) \ noun

Did you know?


Zanies have been theatrical buffoons since the heyday of the Italian commedia dell’arte, which introduced those knavish clowns. The Italian zanni was a stock servant character, often an intelligent and proud valet with abundant common sense, a love of practical jokes, and a tendency to be quarrelsome, cowardly, envious, vindictive, and treacherous. Zanni, the Italian name for the character, comes from a dialect nickname for Giovanni, the Italian form of John. The character quickly spread throughout European theater circles, inspiring such familiar characters as Pierrot and Harlequin, and by the late 1500s an anglicized version of the noun "zany" was introduced to English-speaking audiences by no less a playwright than William Shakespeare (in Loveas Labouras Lost).

Examples of zany in a Sentence

Adjective a zany plan to drive cross-country on a motorized scooter Noun hired a zany to entertain the children at the birthday party one of the challenges of hosting a radio call-in program is preventing the zanies from completely taking over the discussion
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective At first glance, the area around Joshua Tree National Park can appear barren, apart from its zany trees and a few dry shrubs here and there. Rachel Schnalzer, Los Angeles Times, 24 Mar. 2022 Muggs dialed back the Bomb Squad’s sonic maximalism, creating a barrage of psychedelic funk with a West Coast bent that would become progressively stranger and layered with each album, forever toeing the line between ominous and zany. Max Bell, SPIN, 17 Mar. 2022 Will Ferrell is best known for his work in zany comedies like Anchorman, Elf, and Step Brothers (and for good measure, because those movies are incredible). Evan Romano, Men's Health, 9 Mar. 2022 Scott’s plan to sunset all laws passed by Congress after five years has a zany look about it, but the chief targets of such a proposal—New Deal programs like Social Security and Medicare—are old-school Republican bugbears. Jason Linkins, The New Republic, 26 Feb. 2022 There are no details about the film as of yet, but expect plenty of zany shenanigans from Gru (Carell), Lucy Wilde (Wiig), Margo (Cosgrove), Silas Ramsbottom (Coogan) and a multitude of Minions, voiced by Coffin. Jordan Moreau, Variety, 18 Feb. 2022 For all of the bizarre premises and zany personalities, these shows enforce some extremely rigid social rules. Danielle Lindemann, The Atlantic, 13 Feb. 2022 Here are three statistics that capture just how zany the housing market has been: From late 2020 to late 2021, American home prices increased an average of 17.5 percent—more than twice as much as in a typical year during the 2010s. Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic, 30 Jan. 2022 Or even what a legitimately funny or zany moment actually looks like on screen. Nina Metz,, 8 Dec. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Ahead of the show's return, EW is breaking down all of that and more — from when and where to watch, to all the new costumes, to all the twists to expect from this newest edition of Fox's zany masked celeb singing competition. Lauren Huff,, 23 Feb. 2022 The announcement was a shock to Zappos employees, who had grown used to their company’s zany, anything-goes culture. Katherine Sayre, WSJ, 12 Mar. 2022 This zany, cartoon-soundbite–like track somehow fits comfortably on A Couple of Good Days next to playful hip-house, crystalline piano thumpers, funky strut, and alluringly low-key disco. Elias Leight, Rolling Stone, 18 Feb. 2022 In the 1970s, a new tradition was born — having students dress up as a zany El Palo Alto to boost school spirit at sporting events. New York Times, 26 June 2021 For Mosca, selling the inn in a zany, legally fraught manner was worth it. Julie Kliegman, The Week, 23 Feb. 2018 The town would now be saddled with a zany (in a bad way), dysfunctional, dangerous organization on so many levels. Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle, 13 Nov. 2021 With the notoriously zany Doja Cat hosting, really anything could happen at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards., 12 Sep. 2021 But for some animal-obsessive ceramists, anthropomorphizing as a sculptural approach is a zany (and speedy) joy. New York Times, 19 Aug. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'zany.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of zany


1539, in the meaning defined at sense 2


1588, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for zany


Italian zanni, a traditional masked clown, from Italian dialect Zanni, nickname for Italian Giovanni John

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Last Updated

7 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Zany.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for zany


za·​ny | \ ˈzā-nē How to pronounce zany (audio) \
zanier; zaniest

Kids Definition of zany

: very strange and silly a zany plan

More from Merriam-Webster on zany

Nglish: Translation of zany for Spanish Speakers


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