April 11, 2013

Case File #013.04.11: ZOMBIE

Zombie became part of the English lexicon circa 1871, coming first to American English via the voodoo cults in the Southern United States and the Caribbean. One theory has it that the word was borrowed directly from the name of a snake-like god who was once worshiped throughout West Africa, but many etymologists and linguists believe zombie was derived from either the Kimbundu word nzambi, meaning “god,” or the Kikongo word zumbi, meaning “fetish” (religious, not sexual) or “ghost.” The sense in which zombie metaphorically and often humorously refers to the slow-witted, the lethargic, or the clueless first appeared in American English circa 1936, and not long after, restaurateur and bartender Donn Beach invented the now famous cocktail that bears the moniker zombie, most likely naming it such because the drink's high alcohol content makes those who consume it seem slow-witted, lethargic, and clueless.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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