A Glossary of Zombie Words

1697The 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.
1726The 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.
1819Robert 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.
1838The word zombie first appeared in print in an American newspaper in a reprinted short story called “The Unknown Painter” in 1838.
1928The word zombie became mainstream in English after W. B. Seabrook published The Magic Island.
28 Days LaterDanny 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.
Astral zombiesAstral zombies are individuals who still walk among the living but have either sold their souls or had them stolen by a houngan. Astral zombies derive from Haitian folklore. But as you can probaly see, they also share similarities with Deal With The Devil stories. Young adult novel The Boy Who Couldn’t Die by William Sleator (2004) is an astral zombie story.
AutomatonSimilar to zombies in that they have no free will, but unlike zombies they didn’t start from a living being.
ApocalypseThere are many references in the Bible about the resurrection of saints and sinners in the end times. Zombies are thereby associated with apocalypse. Why We’re Obsessed With The Zombie Apocalypse from Live Science
BokorMany people who follow the voodoo religion today believe zombies are myths, but some believe zombies are people revived by a voodoo practitioner known as a bokor.
CannibalA cannibal eats other humans. Throughout human history, cannibalism has sometimes been acceptable practice, involving ceremonial consumption of flesh from diseased relatives or, more often, from captives of war.

Zombies are commonly cannibals and have a craving for human flesh.
BrainsThese days, zombies are commonly thought to eat brains. A lot of our modern conception of what zombies are like comes from George Romero’s film franchise, but Romero himself did not create zombies who ate brains (they ate living flesh in general).

The idea that zombies eat brains may come from an episode of The Simpsons Dial Z For Zombies. This is a spoof of Return of the Living Dead. A generation of kids saw this episode before they were old enough to see a real zombie film.
Comics Code AuthorityIn the 1930s and 1940s plenty of zombie tales appeared in pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Strange Tales.

In the 1950s, zombie tales alarmed child development experts. In America, their activism led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority. For the two decades after 1953, this authority prohibited ‘scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism’ and this put some horror comics out of business. However, some comic publishers refused to abide by the rules and zombie stories continued to find an audience.
CryptA crypt is a stone chamber beneath the floor of a church or other building. It typically contains coffins, sarcophagi (coffins) or religious relics.
DecayZombie bodies are often decaying. This emphasises the horror of death itself.
DreadDread is anticipatory anxiety. The fear of encroaching zombies is as bad as actually facing them head on, if not worse. Hence, they often walk slowly, allowing more time for audience (and character) dread.
DraugarMalevolent corpses from the Norse sagas. These creatures take the offensive by attacking and eating anyone who invades their burial barrows. The wonderful gothic subject matter of these sagas became popular outside Scandinavia in the second half of the 1700s. Draug Asuidus and Thorolf Baegifot are examples.
Exhumeto dig out (something buried, especially a corpse) from the ground
EzekielThere aren’t exactly any zombies in the Bible, but there are many references to bodies being reanimated or resurrected. The book of Ezekiel describes a vision where Ezekiel is dropped in a boneyard and prophesies to the bones. The bones start to shake and become covered with muscle and flesh until they’re reanimated yet “there was no breath in them.”
Féile na MarbhIrish Feast of the Dead. On this night, spirits of the departed rise up, seeking the warmth of the fireside and communion with their living kind. Irish families are supposed to light a candle and leave it in the window, or leave an empty chair by the fire to guide wandering wraiths back home, where the wraiths will receive their blessing for the coming year.
Flat characterZombies in stories will always be flat characters because of their lack of free will. Their desires are basic (not tiered), they can’t make plans and they are indistinguishable from one another, or from any number of other horror monster creations which simply won’t quit. They don’t understand the wretchedness of their condition.
FrankensteinFrankenstein’s monster is a bit like a zombie because he has no free will but he is not made from a reanimated human or animal and therefore does not qualify as a zombie.
Free willTo qualify as a zombie, a creature must have no free will. Mummies and vampires are also renanimated corpses but are not zombies because they have free will. Zombies must be completely subordinate to the will of someone else or to some monomaniacal drive. The drive might be for human flesh, violence, revenge or perhaps resistance of the tyranny of entropy itself. Zombies are therefore a parody of slavery. (The other critieria is that a zombie must be reanimated from a human or animal.)
Golemin Jewish folklore, a golem is an image (typically made from clay or mud) brought to life by magic. Golem in the Bible and in Talmudic literature refers to an embryonic or incomplete substance. Golems are not zombies but instead corporeal beings created from other forms of matter. Zombies have to come from humans or animals to qualify as zombies.
GothicModern zombie stories are commonly set in the 1700s especially if they’re comic e.g. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This was the century that invented the gothic novel. We think of Enlightenment and Regency England as a time of rigid, stable and elaborate social codes. Whether this is true or not, this era makes a good setting, ripe for disruption. Also, characters in powdered wigs contrast comically with decayed bodies wearing them.

I Walked with a Zombie (1943) owes a lot to Gothic stories from the 1800s, and is very loosely based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bornte. The story is set in the Caribbean. Also typically, the dark-skinned natives use voodoo for good (improved health and well-being) but the whites appropriate native practices for their own evil ends.
GrendelGrendel is a character in the poem Beowulf. HE and his mother exhibit some qualities of the modern zombie — they can’t speak, eat human flesh and just keep coming after the Danes for no reason. They are also strangely human. Metaphorically, they represent the Danes’ failings: pillaging vengeance and pride.
Grotesquecomically or repulsively ugly or distorted
Haitian RevolutionImportant to understand: In the late 1700s, enslaved Haitians successfully threw off their oppressors. There was a massive bloody struggle. The number of British and French soldiers was far higher but slaves still managed a revolution.

It was two decades after this revolution that the word ‘zombie’ first appeared in English. In 1819 a poet called Robert Southey used it as a metaphor for imperialism in the Americas, meaning that colonised people had been robbed of their free will.
HamletShakespeare may have made reference to zombies in Hamlet:

A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets
HounganZombies have Haitian roots. A houngan is a type of voodoo priest. If you want to take revenge on someone, you can pay this houngan to give your victim a deadly neurotoxin out of a pufferfish. This toxin convincingly simulates death. The victims’s family thinks they’re dead and buries them. However, the houngan digs them back up and revives them, sort of. This newly minted ‘zombie’ is kept ‘in thrall’ and used as a slave. The zombie is not properly fed – they must be kept in a malnourished state. In fact, feeding zombies salt or meat may be enough to rouse them from their stupor. At this point they’ll either kill their master, kill themselves or go running back to their grave.
When the houngan dies, the zombie person is meant to be free. But sometimes that just means jumping to their death.
Italian zombie filmZombie (1979) by Lucio Fulci is a typical example of the Italian zombie film – a category in its own right. Similar to serial killers in American slasher films, Italian zombie films are shot from the heterosexual male gaze, and the audience is expected to become complicit in feasting upon naked women, or preying on couples having sex. Laura Mulvey has said that the image of a naked young woman often juxtaposes against an image of a disgusting, decaying zombie. In the Italian zombie films this takes on a more literal layer – the zombie is shown to eat the naked woman’s body. These are women who receive abuse from both humans and zombies. The women exist to absorb violence.
Lunacythe state of being a lunatic; insanity (not in technical use). The word comes from ‘moonstruck’. It used to be thought that the moon causes madness.
MacabreThis word describes something disturbing because of its connection with death.
Male gazeIn early 20th century zombie films, time and again villains learn that to possess the woman’s mindless body is unsatisfying. (A guy called Dendle said that.) White Zombie is a classic example, and so is Plague.
Malevolenthaving or showing a wish to do evil to others. This is the zombie’s only desire.
Maraudto go about in search of things to steal or people to attack.
Marbh bheoIrish night walkers
Memento MoriThe zombie is quite literally a memento mori, and serves to remind us that if we think we can cheat death, we are only fooling ourselves.
Night of the Living Dead
MisogynyZombie stories are typically about keeping women in traditional subordinate position.

Does The Walking Dead Still Have A Woman Problem? (Season 3 update from Pajiba) See also: Walking Dead Writers — Don’t Ruin Carol, from Persephone Magazine. See also Thoughts On Andrea from My Friend Amy.
MummyMummies share the shambling gait of the zombie but are generally covered in bandages. Generally mummies aren’t considered zombies because they not entirely without their own will, or completely controlled by one basic drive.
Night of the Living DeadNight of the Living Dead by Romero (1968) is a watershed zombie film series. Romero took various aspects of earlier zombies and crystalised them into an iconic creature we recognise today — the slow, inarticulate, shambling, undead thing motivated only by a desire to eat human flesh. They have no master and are horribly persistent.

George Romero’s zombies are created by a vague technology run amok. We are never told what brings the recently dead back to life, but it’s thought to be radiation leaking to earth from a satellite. This was a typically Cold War fear, reminiscent of a whole lot of 1950s films in which radiation causes men to shrink and women to grow massive. In this film there is an indistinct boundary between monster and victim, and the audience questions how monsters are essentially different from humans. (Maybe not so different after all.)
OgreUnlike giants (more generally), ogres have a massive appetite. Zombies and ogres are therefore related.
OutcastOn the island of Haiti, it’s not unheard of for family members to actually see their dead alive, walking in a state of zombification. But no one wants to reclaim them. They are seen as irredeemably unclean and are now outcasts forever. They’re not figures of terror, though. They’re not capable of harming anyone. Instead, they are a creature hovering between life and death – it has no will to kill, or any will at all – and is simply a scary symbol of human bondage.
OutbreakIn stories, zombies often come about due to some sort of outbreak.

Robert Kirkman, creator of the immensely popular Walking Dead series, has said he will never reveal how the original zombie outbreak started or how the zombies infect through biting because that detail is “unimportant” to the story.
PowdersBokors have a tradition of using herbs, shells, fish, animal parts, bones and other objects to create concoctions including “zombie powders,” which contain tetrodotoxin, a deadly neurotoxin found in pufferfish and some other marine species.
RacismWhite film makers of the 20th century tended to appropriate from other cultures and centre white people and white people’s fears. The white male nature of zombie stories itself is a zombie that just won’t die.
The Walking Dead Has Become A White Patriarchy, so I have been going elsewhere for my zombie stories.
ReanimationZombies have two basic criteria: It must be the reanimated corpse or possessed living body of one person (or animal). (The other is it must have no free will.)
Ring of Salt
Robert SoutheyIn the early 1800s poet Robert Southey used the term ‘zombie’ as a metaphor for someone who has no will. This is how we tend to use zombie today.
Samhainn Irish culture, Samhain is a major Druidic festival marking the boundary between the living and the spirit world. This is the last festival of the harvest year, so pagan Ireland decreed that fruit and nuts (especially apples) would be eaten on the night of Samhain.
SlavesIn a Haitian community Zombies make excellent slaves because their memory and intellect is disabled by the toxin but the lower brain functions still work, allowing the body to move. Obviously, keeping someone as a zombie slave requires complicity from an entire community. Generally, no one in the community likes the victim so they don’t bother checking they’re actually properly dead before burying them. (Means of checking might include cutting off their head or driving a dagger through the heart.) Some people might want to intervene, but they’re afraid the same thing will happen to them.
SoulZombies don’t have souls.
SpiritsZombies appeared in literature as far back as 1697 and were described as spirits or ghosts, not cannibalistic fiends.
Survival of the FittestThis is a Darwinian term meaning harsh conditions weed out weaker members of a species. Survival of the Fittest a common theme among zombie narratives. Zombie narratives tend to have a resurgence after a big, scary world event such as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War 2.
SymbolThe zombie is a malleable symbol. Storytellers can use zombies as they see fit. Zombies have been used to represent the horrors of slavery, white xenophobia, Cold War angst, the fear of death, apprehensions about consumer culture.

Zombie films are quite often about the specific anxieties of white men, and the perceived threat to the white male ability to control the sexuality of white women. Zombies Are All About The Heteronormative Power Struggle from Science 2.0

When zombies were about slavery, stories were concerned about how slavery transplanted to the USA something malignant, but for the masters more than the slaves. These stories were for white audiences terrified of voodoo. The House In The Magnolias (1932) and Song of the Slaves (1940) are two examples of that.
TetrodotoxinUsed carefully at sub-lethal doses, the tetrodotoxin combination may cause zombie-like symptoms such as difficulty walking, mental confusion and respiratory problems.
High doses of tetrodotoxin can lead to paralysis and coma. This could cause someone to appear dead and be buried alive – then later revived.
UndeadThe Ancient Greeks may have been the first civilisation terrorised by a fear of the undead. Archaeologists have unearthed many ancient graves which contained skeletons pinned down by rocks and other heavy objects, assumedly to prevent the dead bodies from reanimating.
VirusZombie outbreaks can be caused by a virus, which makes the story an allegory for our human fear of viruses. The Bestial Virus: The Infectious Origins of Werewolves, Zombies & Vampires from Discover Magazine
VoodooVoodoo (sometimes spelled vodou or vodun) is a religion based in West Africa and practiced throughout Haiti and the Caribbean, Brazil, the American South and other places with an African heritage.
Walking CorpseIn earlier English, corpse referred simply to ‘the body’. Only later did it refer to ‘the dead body’. Romeo’s zombies walk slowly, but Danny Boyle’s Zombies in 28 Days Later are really fast.
WeaknessIn any good zombie story, the zombies represent the Weakness of a society or community of people they come after. Zombie films are therefore allegories. In Night of the Living Dead, the zombies tape into anxieties of the late 1960s — the dehumanising violence of the Vietnam War, uneasy reactions to the Civil Rights movement and a human tendency to become as monstrous as any monster who attacks us. With each subsequent film, the allegory gets updated. The next film is about brain-dead consumerism and after that the sexism turns into feminism.
White ZombieThe first zombie film. Frankenstein and Dracula also appeared on film at this time (1932).

In early zombie films, villains learn that to possess a woman’s mindless body is unsatisfying. White Zombie started that.
W. B. SeabrookThe word zombie was used intermittently throughout the 1800s but wasn’t a well-known word until 1929, when W. B. Seabrook published a travelogue called The Magic Island. Seabrook was an American journalist and adventurer who traveled to Haiti and lived there with his family. (Um, he was also a cannibal.) Seabrook collected stories about zombies and voodoo and he even thought he saw a dead man resurrected once. Readers in the West were intrigued by these stories, especially Protestant readers, perhaps, because free will is held very dear to the Protestant’s heart – thought to be humanity’s main virtue.
ZeitgeistIn 28 Days Later, the virus called ‘rage’ is the Zeitgeist of the modern era, where everything is so impersonalised and moves so rapidly that everyone is consumed by fury and can do nothing about it.
ZombieAn Enlightenment zombie meant someone who has no free will, and could refer to a high-level administator.

Zombie can now mean that, but also a supernatural creature who has been renanimated from the dead and walks (or runs) around trying to eat the living, or infect them with a virus.

More recently, zombie describes a computer that’s been taken over by a remote host.

Zombies are generally stupid but recent zombies are able to learn quickly, sort of like artificial intelligence. This says something about our collective fear of computers taking over.

For years zombi was spelt without an ‘e’ at the end.
Zombie litA whole literary subgenre featuring zombies

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