The word zero came into the English language via French zéro from Italian zero, Italian contraction of Venetian zevero form of 'Italian zefiro via ṣafira or ṣifr. In pre-Islamic time the word ṣifr (Arabic صفر) had the meaning "empty". Sifr evolved to mean zero when it was used to translate śūnya (Sanskrit: शून्य) from India. The first known English use of zero was in 1598.
The Italian mathematician Fibonacci (c. 1170–1250), who grew up in North Africa and is credited with introducing the decimal system to Europe, used the term zephyrum. This became zefiro in Italian, and was then contracted to zero in Venetian. 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. For the simple notion of lacking, the words nothing and none are often used. Sometimes the words nought, naught and aught are used. Several sports have specific words for zero, such as nil in association football (soccer), love in tennis and a duck in cricket. It is often called oh in the context of telephone numbers. Slang words for zero include zip, zilch, nada, and scratch. Duck egg and goose egg are also slang for zero.
Ancient Egyptian numerals were base 10. They used hieroglyphs for the digits and were not positional. 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.
By the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, the Babylonian mathematics had a sophisticated sexagesimal positional numeral system. The lack of a positional value (or zero) was indicated by a space between sexagesimal numerals. By 300 BC, a punctuation symbol (two slanted wedges) was co-opted as a placeholder in the same Babylonian system. In a tablet unearthed at Kish (dating from about 700 BC), the scribe Bêl-bân-aplu wrote his zeros with three hooks, rather than two slanted wedges.