A Glossary of Zombie Words

Fight The Dead Fear The Living image from the zombie series The Walking Dead

Why all the zombies in stories? Zombies have unlimited potential as metaphor. Historically, storytellers have used zombies to explore tensions between conservative and progressive values. The zombies themselves represent widespread cultural anxieties of their era.

Some storytellers use zombie stories to reinforce the status quo while progressive storytellers use zombies to critique it.

Watching the anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown protests in other parts of the world, shows me how inaccurate most zombie apocalypse fiction is. There would be groups of people getting themselves bitten on purpose, wouldn’t there?

@davidgary wood 7:35am · 25 Jul 2021

A BRIEF TIMELINE OF POPULAR ZOMBIE STORIES

1200s

The 1200s gave us ‘Eyrbyggja Saga’ (‘Story of the People of Eyrr’). This story is full of the walking dead, e.g. Thorodd and his men. In this story, the living aren’t especially worried about the walking dead. Thorodd and his men have been drowned. The living believed that drowned people had been well received by the sea-goddess, Ran, if they attended their own funeral feast. It was only later that the walking dead became unwelcome. They loiter around the first every night and the living become unnerved. So the hero of the story sues them. They leave. These walking-dead stories are to do with the beliefs of pre-Northern Europeans — that the dead could still see, hear and feel.

1697

The word ‘zombi’ first appeared in Le Zombi du grand Perou by Corneille Blessebois. A woman is tricked into thinking she’s an invisible spirit called a zombi. Back then, zombis were spirits or ghosts, not the walking dead as we know them today.

1726

The word ‘zumbi’ appears with a meaning closer to how we use it today in A History of the Voyages and Travels of Capt. Nathaniel Uring. The word ‘zumbi’ refers to the apparition of the dead person, but they walk around and torment the living, much like contemporary zombies.

1819

Robert Southey publishes History of Brazil, in which ‘zombi’ refers to the elected chief of the maroons in Pernambuco. Southey means the guy behaves like he doesn’t have any free will. These early zombie stories were influenced by colonialism. In this era, the zombie characters themselves allude to savage and unintelligent “colonial objects”.

1838

The word zombie first appeared in print in an American newspaper in a reprinted short story called “The Unknown Painter” in 1838.

1928

The word zombie became mainstream in English after W. B. Seabrook published The Magic Island.

SEPTEMBER 11 2001

After the 9/11 attacks zombies in stories were commonly interpreted as a metaphor for terrorism.

28 Days Later

Danny Boyle’s modern version of Romero’s films. But these zombies are neither bewitched nor reanimated dead. Instead, they’re infected with a virus known as ‘rage’. Docile humans transform into terrifying red-eyed shells of their former selves. The virus has a magical quality.

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