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The Italian word zefiro was already in existence (meaning "west wind" from Latin and Greek zephyrus) and may have influenced the spelling when transcribing Arabic ṣifr.

There are different words used for the number or concept of zero depending on the context.

When division produced zero as a remainder, nihil, also meaning "nothing", was used.

These medieval zeros were used by all future medieval calculators of Easter.

The ancient Greeks had no symbol for zero (μηδέν), and did not use a digit placeholder for it.

They seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number.

The Babylonian placeholder was not a true zero because it was not used alone. Thus numbers like 2 and 120 (2×60), 3 and 180 (3×60), 4 and 240 (4×60), looked the same because the larger numbers lacked a final sexagesimal placeholder. The back of Epi-Olmec stela C from Tres Zapotes, the second oldest Long Count date discovered.

However, the positions were usually limited to the fractional part of a number (called minutes, seconds, thirds, fourths, etc.)—they were not used for the integral part of a number, indicating a concept perhaps better expressed as "none", rather than "zero" in the modern sense.

They asked themselves, "How can nothing be something?

", leading to philosophical and, by the medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum.

Slang words for zero include zip, zilch, nada, and scratch. By 1770 BC, the Egyptians had a symbol for zero in accounting texts.

The symbol nfr, meaning beautiful, was also used to indicate the base level in drawings of tombs and pyramids and distances were measured relative to the base line as being above or below this line.

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