Posted by: zhiv | January 18, 2008

About Zhiving

Might as well note a quick, introductory explanation of the word “zhiv.”  It’s actually a concept of sorts, and I might come back to it at some point in a fuller form, but it presents an obvious question and a good early post.

“zhiv” is a word with no meaning, a word that means nothing.  It’s most often used as a verb.  To zhiv somebody or something is to say something that doesn’t have a meaning, that might be purposely confusing.  

The pronunciation is the same as the first part of Dr. Zhivago, which is why I like to use the z spelling.  But I’ve seen it spelled shiv (an existing word of sorts), and shuv (closer to the sound) and probably a few other ways as well. 

The handiest way to explain it has always been to use the behind-the-bungalows example, which is where it may well have been created.  “What were you kids doing back there?” says the vice-principal.  “We were just zhiving, on our way over to the cafeteria.”  “Oh–okay.  Get moving.”  Or, “I was just dropping off some zhiv at my science class.”  It is also very handy for filling in song lyrics that you don’t know:  “jumping jack flash, it’s a zhiv zhiv zhiv” isn’t exactly right, but you get the point.   It’s a fill-in word, or place, or thing, or activity.  It’s completely flexible and elastic.  Once you get the hang of the word and how it works, it’s incredibly useful and it starts to grow on you.  And then the whole concept of zhiving can begin to take on a vague, undetermined philosophical life of its own.  I’m not sure that there’s another word that’s quite like it–which makes sense because it’s not only not a real word, but it’s also nothing at all at the same time.

A hard core zhiver is generally going to be somebody who is full of shit, but it would be our perogative to label that person, presumably an outsider.  But zhiving in a modest, benign manner and as a lifestyle choice of sorts should be charming, easygoing and breezy, more or less making it up as you go along.

It’s a word from high school days, as you might have guessed.  My little gang of stalwart underachievers had a fair amount of lingo that became pretty advanced.  Thinking about it, it wasn’t just shorthand, but also a code so that we could talk about people, mostly girls, while standing right in front of them and in the middle of a conversation.  Rampant immaturity, very age appropriate.  We said “intense” and “excellent” a lot, along with our private lingo, and virtually all of it has faded away over time. 

 But zhiving remains fresh and people seem to like it and it seems very appropriate to me, my life, and what I do.  And I’ve happily adopted it as a nom de net as a commenter for a while now, and it seems like the obvious name for the blog.

Happy zhiving.  


  1. […] all England,” he wrote (MacFarlane, xiii). This is all a little strange, and a weird sort of zhiv. It has been studied by Joanne Jacobson (1992) and elsewhere. Adams has received substantial […]

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