: being numbered zero in a series; also : of, relating to, or being a zero
Did You Know?
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to use "zeroth," but the word, which was coined by physicists over a hundred years ago, does often show up in scientific contexts. (It comes from "zero," which is itself from Arabic "ṣifr.") These days "zeroth" is frequently used, as in our first example sentence, to suggest a level of importance that is even higher than first. Renowned Soviet physicist Lev Landau used "zeroth" this way when he classified all the famous physicists according to the relative value of their contributions to science. He put Niels Bohr and Max Planck, for example, right up there in the first class, and lesser-rated physicists in the second through fifth classes. Where did he think Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton belonged? They were unmatched, he felt, so they went in his zeroth class.
Test Your Memory. What other word did we feature this fall that begins with "ze" and ends with "th"? The answer is ...
Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov's Zeroth Law for robots --"A robot may not harm humanity" -- supersedes his First Law disallowing a robot to harm an individual human being.
"For us to consider 2009 the end of the decade, we would have to have had a year 0. But this means the first century, too, would have to have been the zeroth century. And the first millennium the zeroth millennium. It doesn't work that way. It can't work that way, unless you want to be at the end of the zeroth decade of the zeroth century of the second millennium." -- From an article by Dennis E. Powell in The Athens News (Ohio), December 28, 2009
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