Printable Version
Pronunciation: zahm-bee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A soulless corpse raised from the dead by a voodoo priest. 2. A dull, slow-witted person with no will-power. 3. A computer over which someone other than the owner has control. Such a computer is usually used to distribute spam.

Notes: Today's word is special in meaning and origin. The meaning is special because it refers to a specific type of ghost and the origin is special because it comes from Africa. Zombies look like humans but without souls or wills. They are usually depicted as being under the control of someone else. We have a few derivations from this word, though. Two adjectives have been vetted, zombiesque and zomboid, both of which mean "like a zombie". Zombiism means "the state of a zombie" or "belief in zombies". Zombify has been used to mean to "turn into a zombie". This has led to zombification and zombified.

In Play: Since we have generally freed ourselves from superstitions like voodoo, we usually restrict ourselves to the second, metaphorical sense of this word: "The morning after the party Harry Wormser-Goode felt like a zombie, unable to get up or think straight if at all." Remember, zombies have little will-power of their own: "Will Dolittle just sat there, like a zombie, and agreed with whatever the boss said."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a rare bird, a word of West African origin. It has been adapted from Kikongo zumbi "an object believed to have magic powers" or Kimbundu nzambi "(python) deity" in West African voodoo cults. Whichever one was the actual origin, when the voodoo cults were transported to the US and Caribbean, its meaning somehow slipped over to a soulless corpse revived by witchcraft. The meaning "dull, slow-witted person" came from the metaphorical sense of "like a zombie", since zombies are usually portrayed as slow-moving, simple-minded figures. (We thank Kathleen McCune of Norway for suggesting today's Good Word, despite the fact that there are no zombies in Norway.)

Dr. Goodword,

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