Date: Fri, 27 Feb 1998 15:25:22 +0000
From: Jim Rader jrader[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]M-W.COM
Subject: Zori redux [long]

While the rest of you have gone on from huaraches and zoris to more
elevated topics such as butt thongs, I'm still thinking about zoris.

I don't know if anyone mentioned the note on_ zori_ that appeared in
_American Speech_ in fall, 1985 (by Edith Trager Johnson & C. Douglas
Johnson); it discussed the failure of dictionaries to list _zoris_
as a plural of _zori_ and gave a list of synonyms and their relative
frequency based on an informal survey.

I ran a quick Nexis search on _zori_, _zoris_, and _zories_. The word is
less common than I would have thought. The figures that follow were
done hastily and are probably not exact. Cancelling out multiple
hits from reprinted articles, I got 39 newspaper hits for the form
_zori_. Of these, 14 were from English-language newspapers published
in Japan, and hence are not valid for judging American use. Of the
25 other occurences (some of which came from sources such as the
_Jerusalem Post_), nine were glossed in on way or another; there were
seven instances where _zori_ was pretty definitely plural. Most of
the uses were attributive (e.g., _zori sandal_, _zori slipper_) and
most specified a Japanese cultural context.

A search for _zoris_, however, gave a very different result. Again
cancelling out multiple hits, I got 38 cites; of these, 24 were from
California newspapers (of which three glossed the word) and one from
Hawaii. The rest were scattered: New Mexico (1), Florida (2), Texas
(1, in an article on Japanese loanwords by Garland Cannon), _Newsday_
(1), _New York Times_ (2), _Washington Post_ (2), _Footwear News_ , a
trade publication (2), _Christian Science Monitor (1), _Chicago
Tribune_ (1). Almost all the occurrences lacked Japanese context and
referred to thongs/flip-flops. A piece in the _San Diego
Union-Tribune for 5/18/84 gave a number of synonyms (thongs,
flip-flops, go-aheads, beach-walkers, sand-walkers, tar-shoes, shower

Amazingly (to me), I found five cites for _zories_ as plural, in
scattered sources (_Los Angeles Times_, an Arizona paper, _Toronto
Star_, _Bergen (N.J.) Record_, _Cleveland Plain Dealer_, all
referring to flip-flops without Japanese context and three glossing
the word. The strangest was the Plain Dealer cite (10/5/95), from a
q & a fashion column by Marylou Luther (syndicated?)--so strange it's
worth quoting in full:

-Dear Marylou: When Conor O'Brien interviewed Isaac Mizrahi on "Late
-Night" about his movie "Unzipped," the designer mentioned a fashion
-item called zories. What was he talking about?--E.O., Chicago
-Dear E.O.: --I had never heard of zories either, so I went straight
-to the source. Mizrahi reports that the word is Brooklynese for
-flip-flops. In case it ever comes up, flip-flops are go-aheads in
-Los Angeles. In any dialect, they are a summertime favorite at the
-beach. Mizrahi brough them to the runway. [A new chapter in the
annals of Brooklynese.]

The periodical cites were marginal (_zori_: 3, _zoris_: 2). My
conclusion is that _zori_ is a regionalism (West Coast & Hawaii) and
even on the West Coast it may be fading because of the lexical
competetion. I'm still wondering if the concept of a sandal held to
the foot by a Y-shaped thong was a Japanese import (along with the
word _zori_) or if the Japanese word was applied to something we
already had (and hence is a counterexample to my claim about Japanese

I'm also still amazed by the paucity of cites on Nexis. I think I
found more cites for the word _osha_, even after weeding out all the
cases where Nexis failed to filter out OSHA or gave me the url for
OSHA. Anyone on the list know what what _osha_ refers to
without looking it up on Nexis or in DARE? I think DARE is the first
dictionary I've seen _osha_ in. Unfortunately, it gives no
etymology. I'm still working on the history of this word.

Jim Rader