Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Words that are spoken far more often than they are written, particularly more colloquial terms in casual speech, can oftentimes be a point of confusion when it comes to the correct spelling. One such example is when you talk about running the gauntlet when you really should be running the gamut. And such is also the case with deciding whether the word is whiz, whizz or wiz.

Let’s start with a few basic definitions. The word whiz can be used in both as a verb and as a noun with related definitions.

It could refer to doing or moving quickly as to create a “whizzing” sound, either literally or figuratively. The sports car whizzed by the onlookers. Jeremy whizzed through the museum without stopping to look at any of the exhibits. The whole summer whizzed by for Joe while at space camp. Joanna is whizzing through her to-do list. In a far more vulgar way, taking a whiz is slang for urinating.

As a noun, the definition is much the same, referring to the act of moving quickly or the sound made by something that is moving quickly. The plane flew by with a whiz. Jackson took a whiz around the art gallery in between classes.

In all these instances, whiz is the most common and standard version of the word, though whizz is oftentimes listed as an acceptable alternative. There’s no real rhyme or reason to adding that extra Z and, as I type this blog post, whizz is being picked up as a spelling error.

But what about wiz? We may think that wiz is a shortened form of the word wizard, particularly in the context of a wiz kid… or is it a whiz kid?

A Google search for “whiz kid” generates 2 million results, while a search for “wiz kid” generates 11 million results. This may lead us to believe that “wiz kid” is the more commonly accepted term for a particularly brilliant child, but I imagine that the number of results is much more heavily influenced by the Nigerian musician Wizkid. Contrast this to the 1980s TV series Whiz Kids, which followed the “adventures of a group of young kids who are amateur computer experts and detectives.”

Even when we move beyond children and youth to discuss other people who are particularly skilled, clever or knowledgeable about a certain subject, the most standard spelling is still whiz, even though both wiz and whizz appear to be accepted in this context. You could talk about a math whiz, a chemistry wiz, or a programming whizz, for instance.

I have never claimed to be a grammar whiz, but gee whiz, I do hope that you find the Grammar 101 series on this blog helpful.