za·​ny | \ ˈzā-nē How to pronounce zany (audio) \
plural zanies

Definition of zany

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a subordinate clown or acrobat in old comedies who mimics ludicrously the tricks of the principal : merry-andrew
2 : a slavish follower : toady
3a : one who acts the buffoon to amuse others
b : nut, kook


zanier; zaniest

Definition of zany (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : being or having the characteristics of a zany
2 : fantastically or absurdly ludicrous a zany movie

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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

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 Adjective a zany plan to drive cross-country on a motorized scooter
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Fantasy author Erin Lindsey was amused by Avenue 5‘s zany absurdism, but prefers the humor of Veep, which operates on many different levels. Geek's Guide To The Galaxy, WIRED, "‘Avenue 5’ Is Funny but Needs More Variety," 23 Apr. 2021 The group members spent the early days of their collaboration living together, like a small fraternity, so as to more effectively build out their zany, mutating music. Sheldon Pearce, The New Yorker, "Brockhampton Makes Good on Its Supergroup Promise," 20 Apr. 2021 At Nickelodeon’s zany Kids Choice Awards, on social media, and in the front rows of Paris, the fashions were optimistic. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "This Week, the Best Dressed Stars Were Ready for Spring," 15 Mar. 2021 One is a meditative journey to the Oregon frontier; the other a zany, time-bending rom-com. Nate Jones, Vulture, "Before Cristin Milioti and John Magaro Starred in Two of 2020’s Best Films, There Was This Coke Ad," 15 Jan. 2021 Earlier in the week, the streamer debuted its latest bit of awards show bait, Pieces of a Woman starring The Crown alum Vanessa Kirby, and the zany, Nicolas Cage-hosted, History of Swear Words. Ariana Romero,, "You Have 7 New Netflix Treats To Binge This Week — Here’s What’s Worth Watching," 10 Jan. 2021 Forget the zany, out-there stuff (for now at least). Washington Post, "A feel for the game," 2 Nov. 2020 The zaniest of the zanies, and one of Grimm’s favorites to play, is Dahlia Whitney, the murder victim’s wife. Myrna Petlicki,, "'Murder for Two' is a two-man show with one actor playing 12 roles," 3 July 2018 In Tasmania, the idea gradually turned into a bit of a joke: the island’s very own Bigfoot, with its own zany, rivalrous fraternities of seekers and true believers. Brooke Jarvis, The New Yorker, "The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger," 16 Jan. 2012 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Gunn has a particular vibe to him, with projects like the Guardians of the Galaxy series echoing his tendency towards zany plots and characters with big action sequences. Ineye Komonibo,, "The Suicide Squad‘s New Team is Even More Chaotic This Time Around, If You Can Believe It," 29 Mar. 2021 Pinot Gris also can pair with some chicken dishes, just don’t get too zany with the spices. Marc Bona, cleveland, "Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris – what’s it about? Wine guide to flavors, prices, facts," 11 Apr. 2021 The crime was reportedly payback for the studio’s 2014 comedy portraying a zany plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un. Shawn Tully, Fortune, "These are the largest cyber thefts of the past decade—and 80% of them involve Bitcoin," 7 Apr. 2021 Why does Visa care about this fledgling, zany part of the economy at all? Robert Hackett, Fortune, "That settles it: Visa is making life way easier for crypto businesses," 29 Mar. 2021 Yet the movie spent much of its time simply serving as a zany showcase for Murphy and Arsenio Hall, spending ample time in the makeup chair for their barber-shop characters and more. Brian Lowry, CNN, "'Coming 2 America' brings Eddie Murphy back, riding a wave of nostalgia," 4 Mar. 2021 The production was an instant hit with Bay Area theatergoers, who were eager to welcome back these zany political satirists at a time when there was so much insanity to skewer. Charles Mcnulty, Los Angeles Times, "Theaters hit the one-year anniversary of shutdown. How are artists keeping afloat?," 2 Mar. 2021 By the time Novak starts crying on air, trying to explain the sublime pain of eating a melting ice cream cone, POOG feels less like a zany brunch and more like a religion. Jenny Singer, Glamour, "The 25 Best Podcasts for Women," 3 Mar. 2021 She’s game for all the over-the-top and zany shoots offered to her, and takes every task seriously. Natalie Morin,, "HBO Made Dominique Druckman A Fake Influencer. What Happens Now That Her Followers Know?," 3 Feb. 2021

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.

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First Known Use of zany


1588, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1609, 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

30 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Zany.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for zany



English Language Learners Definition of zany

informal : very strange and silly


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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for zany

Nglish: Translation of zany for Spanish Speakers

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