- The comic servant characters of the commedia dell'arte. Theyincluded the foolish Arlecchino and the crafty Scapino.The word is thought to derive from a Venetian form of the name Giovanni('John'). Several of the Zanni later became major figures in theEnglish harlequinade. In English 'zani' became a term for a clown orbuffoon, giving rise to the modern adjective 'zany'.
He's like the zani to a tumbler
That tries tricks after him to make men laugh.
Ben Jonson: Every Man out of his Humour(IV, i)