Readers of All The Weyrs Of Pern will know that Aivas named the "springs" found in dissected samples of Thread ovoids "zebeedees".

Which obviously is "ZBD"s.

So in our scientific world, what is a "ZBD"? IOW, what does that acronym represent?

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    I think it was mentioned during the first fall of thread that they were classified as a zoonotic biological disease (hence ZBD) or something similar. I would need to check the books for the passage to confirm though.
    – Tragamor
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 11:27
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    I've checked the book, the name is spelled "zebedee" with one less "e". I've checked the biblical character with the same name, but there is no connection to springs or diseases, so it's probably just a coincidence. The word is Italian slang for a part of the male anatomy that is distinctly ovoidal, but this is certainly a coincidence :-)
    – Vorbis
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 13:42
  • @Vorbis - sorry I got the spelling wrong - but actually I don't think it's that important - ijust as with "agenothree" it is (IMO!) meant to be the modern Pernese interpretation of a word AIVAS is using that they don't understand is an acronym. But see A.B.'s answer below for another interpretation. I totally agree that the bibilical name has no connection.
    – davidbak
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 14:37
  • It's not an acronym, it's a gift from god.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 19:34
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    I just assumed that it was AIVAS's sense of humour
    – Gerry Coll
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 6:01

2 Answers 2


In this case, possibly not. Pern does seem to do a lot of that words-that-are-derived-from-acronyms thing, but this may not be one of them. "Zebedee" was the name of a character in the kids' TV show The Magic Roundabout, that hopped about on a spring.

enter image description here

(It doesn't seem likely that the characters in the main sequence would know that, hundreds of years and considerable information loss later, but AIVAS presumably got this name from one of the early colonists, who were far enough back that they might remember what Zebedee was - or at least that he had something to do with springs).

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    That's .... not bad! AIVAS had a really complete cultural library ... assuming of course they're in the same universe as we are, or one that's close enough! (AIVAS and the Pern people used other acronyms, as you say, e.g., HNO3 = "agenothree", that's why I went in that direction.)
    – davidbak
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 4:13
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    Magic Roundabout was a hugely popular show in it's day, and McCaffrey would definitely have known about it if she had kids of the right age in Dublin. Time for bed... Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 16:55
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    Further looked into it, and McCaffery had a professional science advisor for the Pern series who was a trained biologist and was British. It seems quite likely the details of the biological design of the Zebedees was largely his, and he'd certainly have had access to the BBC while that show was running.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 17:08
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    To add a few dates: All the Weyrs of Pern was published in 1991. McCaffrey moved to Ireland in 1970, and as far as I can find made her home there for the rest of her life. The Magic Roundabout originally aired 1965–1977; but at least in the UK, it remained current enough that as a child born in 1982, I and my peers growing up in the 80s and 90s were all familiar with it (either through re-airing or on video). I can’t find details on whether/when it was shown in Ireland, but lots of British shows were.
    – PLL
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 19:19
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    though cultural awareness of the Bible or major Earth cities/countries/events is a bit more likely than a random ancient children's TV show, wouldn't you think?
    – davidbak
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 20:25

Likely it was a reference to the Zinc Binding Domain (or Zinc-finger Binding Domain).

"Zinc fingers" are a class of protein chunks which show up all over the place. They have twisty, spiraling forms, and were getting written up in the late 80s (i.e. while Weyrs was being written). Example.

One major place they show up is in transcription factors. DNA has segments that various proteins attach to. Zinc finger domains, are regions on the protein (protein domains) that are represented like this (link to wiki for image; not sure about license compatibility) and which allow the protein to attach to whatever it needs to attach to, DNA for example.

  • Very nice! Never heard of those.
    – davidbak
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 5:25
  • @davidbak I tried to read up a little as part of writing this, and they make my head spin.
    – fectin
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 5:28
  • You got farther than me. I just looked at the interesting diagrams ...
    – davidbak
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 5:29
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    While zinc finger domains are indeed very well known in the field of biology, I doubt they could be behind this name. The "twisty spiraling" forms in your image is actually DNA that the ZN proteins are binding to, and not the ZN proteins themselves. And although proteins do indeed have spiral regions, they don't really look like springs and the whole zinc finger protein thing is really obscure outside the field.
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 16:45

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