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go from zero to hero

To change an outcome, one's situation, or oneself from being particularly unsuccessful, negative, unfortunate, or unpopular to being especially successful, positive, fortunate, or popular. After his parents won the lottery, John went from zero to hero in his high school overnight. With computer programming becoming an increasingly in-demand skill, many who might have been picked on in high school are now going from zeros to heroes.
See also: hero, zero

zero hour

The time at which something starts. I have so much studying left to do before the exam, and zero hour is 8 AM! Zero hour for our vacation is 4:30—the minute we're all done work!
See also: hour, zero


Used to describe a software security vulnerability that has just been exploited or discovered, often before the software developers can formally announce or create a fix (thus giving them "zero days" to preemptively address the issue). It was a 0-day attack—the developers had no idea that their program could be hacked in that way.

zero-sum game

A situation, process, competition, or outcome in which the winner's gain is exactly equal to the loser's loss. Poker is a zero-sum game because the amount of money won by one player is equivalent to the amount lost by the other players.
See also: game

zero in (on someone or something)

to aim directly at someone or something. The television camera zeroed in on the little boy scratching his head. The commercial zeroed in on the glass of cola. Mary is very good about zeroing in on the most important and helpful ideas.
See also: zero

zero tolerance

absolutely no toleration of even the smallest infraction of a rule. Because of the zero tolerance rule, the kindergartner was expelled from school because his mother accidentally left a table knife in his lunch box.
See also: zero

zero in on

1. Aim precisely at a target, as in They zeroed in on the last snipers. [c. 1940]
2. Direct one's attention to, concentrate or focus on, as in We must zero in on the exact combination of ingredients, or The whole class zeroed in on the new assignment. This usage transfers aiming a firearm to directing one's attention. [Mid-1900s]
3. Converge on, close in on, as in The children zeroed in on the electric train display. [Mid-1900s]
See also: on, zero

a zero-sum game

If a situation is a zero-sum game, the advantage that one person gains from it must have an equal disadvantage for someone else. The idea that foreign investment is a zero-sum game — that one country's gain is another's loss — is mistaken. Note: Other nouns are sometimes used instead of game. According to Reed, employee benefits are a zero-sum gain. If costs for one benefit rise, it's often at the expense of another, such as paid vacation and health insurance. Note: A zero-sum game is one in which the winnings and losses of all the players add up to zero.
See also: game

zero in

1. To aim or focus something, such as a weapon or telescope, toward a specific target or location: The enemy spotted the approaching aircraft and zeroed in their missiles. Zero the telescopes in on the watchtower.
2. To identify with increasing accuracy a property of something, especially its location: We are finally zeroing in on the location of the smuggling ring.
3. To adjust the aim or sight of a weapon by repeated firings: The soldiers fired a few rounds in order to zero in their rifles. I zeroed the gun in at 100 yards.
4. zero in on To direct one's gaze or attention to something: The children zeroed in on the display of toys in the store window.
See also: zero

zero out

1. To reset something, such as a counter or clock, to zero: The timekeeper forgot to zero out the stopwatch in between sprints. I zeroed the odometer out and measured the length of the road.
2. To reduce some quantity to zero: This final payment will zero out your balance on the loan. I called the bank and zeroed out my account.
3. To cut off the funding for something, such as a government program: The new administration is planning to zero out subsidies and benefits for illegal aliens. Our social assistance program had funding until the government zeroed it out of the budget.
See also: out, zero


n. an insignificant person; a nobody. I want to be more in life than just another zero.