zillet

I need a new key purse. The one I bought just a year or two ago is falling apart already (!). But it’s hard to find one with the necessary features: it has to be able to hold a few bills and some coins, it has to withstand getting wet on occasion (I sometimes go running in the rain, for instance), and it has to have well-made, usable zillets. Not a ring, zillets, and not crappy ones either.

Did you know that’s what those things are called, those little clippy things that hold one key at a time in a key purse? I bet you didn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if you also didn’t know that the hard tip on a shoelace is an aglet, the little trough between your nose and your lip is your philtrum, and the wet punching bag at the back of your mouth is your uvula. (Well, if you’re into linguistics, you should at least know that last one, as it’s a place of articulation for consonants, such as the in Inuktitut and some varieties of Arabic.)

The world is full of things you recognize on sight and don’t often have to refer to, so you can go years without knowing a real name for them. If you have to speak of them, you make do with doodad, thingy, doohickey, widget, or – in French – truc. I suspect my life is quite full of such things even still. But I get a little thrill when I learn a new word for something I’d never thought of as having a name of its own. It’s like a new key opening a new door – and if the word is a new key, perhaps the thing that has brought us to this word is the zillet.

I especially like it when the word is pretty and quaint. Aglet seems like such a perfect thingummy of a word, small and idiosyncratic, and in fact it’s shortened from aguillette. Zillet is even more charming because it starts with z. And it has that little thrill of ill in the middle. But it doesn’t seem to be shortened from something French. It may be related to zill, a kind of finger cymbal found in Turkey and Arabic countries. But it’s kind of hard to see how it got from the one to the other.

Ah, heck, never mind. I drew out some Scrabble tiles and made a word (and checked to make sure it wasn’t already a word) and then I made it mean something. Zillet is a new old word. But I think it’s good pairing. It sounds appropriate, to me at least. Sometimes a new key opens doors, and if you have a key you need something to hold it.

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