Zombies have been a popular trend for a while, resulting in a lot of media featuring the ‘living dead’. From fun runs to television shows, they have infected the world almost as quickly as a real virus might have, but is media really giving Zombies a proper name?
When most people hear the word Zombie, they think of a half rotted corpse getting up and wandering around, preying upon living flesh to devour and spread their infection. However, this is not what the word meant originally. The word Zombie comes from Haiti, and it was used to describe a form of slavery where their spirit was trapped in their body, but their body was not theirs to control. The world slowly evolved to mean any corpse reanimated to carry out the will of their master.
The first movie to use zombies was Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie, where zombies were people who took a potion and fell under a trance. It followed the older zombie lore which was closely tied to voodoo and slavery. The second prominent film to involve the undead was Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, however the flesh eating creatures were known as ghouls. Ten years later, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead actually used the term zombies to describe the horrifying creatures. This created a huge shift in the understanding of what zombies were, leading to the popular term of ‘zombies’ to ingrain itself in western culture as an undead creature that eats human flesh.
As it happens, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was closer to the mark when it came to ancient folklore. Ghouls have been forgotten in much of pop culture today, (excepting a few exceptions, such as being featured in the CW’s Supernatural and in Dungeons and Dragons Manuals) but they were the original flesh-eating undead horror to terrify children and adults at night.
Ghouls are undead creatures, once thought of to be human, but were stricken with a curse to make them devour human flesh, both living and dead, and has a chance of infecting the living with their terrible curse. When looking strictly at folklore, ghouls seem to fit the bill as the horror icon western society has become familiar with today, but does this mean that the word ‘zombie’ should be replaced with ghoul? Probably not, since the human language is in constant flux, and words can change meaning all of the time. It’s just nice to know the history and origins of some of these words, after all, there are still classic zombie references used today, such as a mixture of all the sodas in the fountain.