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Nothing's Wrong


Nothing's Wrong

by Kenneth Lyen

 "Nothing's Wrong" is the title of a song from a new musical that I’m currently writing, with words by Puah Guanhua and music by yours truly.

But what does the phrase actually mean? Does it mean that there is something wrong with the concept of "nothing", or does it mean that everything's all right? At first glance "nothing's wrong" seems to imply the opposite of "wrong", which is "right". But it does not mean "everything’s right". The phrase "nothing’s wrong" has more of a quality of rebellious denial compared to the rather bland "everything's right".

For the fun of it, let's explore the etymological roots of the word "nothing" and other related words, and see how different cultures and languages developed their concepts of "nothing".

The mathematical representation of nothing is zero. The concept was probably invented independently by the Hindus and by the Mayans. Unfortunately the Mayans lived too far away from civilisation (this is politically incorrect) to make any impact. The Indians called zero "sunya", and the idea spread to the Arabs who called it "cifr". And when it spread to the Romans, they called it "zephirum". The term survives in the English language as "cipher". As the concept of zero is cloaked in mystery, the word "cipher" therefore refers to a sort of unsolved code. The word "decipher" refers to the removal of the mystery shrouding such a code.

The word zero has many synonyms. Americans use the slang "zilch". This may have originated from a 1931 comic character in the magazine Ballyhoo, called Mr. Zilch. And in turn, this person may have originated from Joe Zilsch, an early 1900s U.S. college slang referring to "an insignificant person."

The word "zip" first surfaced around 1900 when students used it as slang for a grade of zero on a test. But the origin of this slang is shrouded in mystery. "Zippadee doodah!"

Another synonym for zero is nought, which comes from two Middle English words "no wiht" or no thing. The word "no" actually comes from the Old English word "na".

The word "nil" is a compressed form of the Latin word "nihil", which in turn consists of two words: "ne-" = "not" and "hilum" = "small thing, trifle."

So you have a plethora of words referring to zero. But they are mere words (song coming up here).

Some cultures ascribe an aura of mystery to zero. Indeed the opposite of zero is just as mysterious. When you divide any number by zero you can arrive at its opposite number, infinity. Can our minds really comprehend the hidden secrets and ramifications of nothingness and infinity? Perhaps, but I prefer them to remain unfathomable and mysterious.