Episode 292: A Rose By Any Other Name

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Zombie Cliche Lookout: The Zed Word

People in zombie stories, at least historically, have tended to avoid calling all those cannibalistic shambling corpses “zombies” for one unexplained reason or another. This was even turned into a great joke in Shaun of the Dead, wherein the characters briefly discussed calling them zombies, then opted to “not use the zed word”. However, the seeds of change appear to be in the air, and I’m reading more and more zombie fiction in which the characters are not only familiar with the term “zombie”, but also have no qualms about using it.

About this Episode:

The discussion of calling the zombies “zombies” has indeed happened before in the comic. It was just a brief setup with Stewart and Shannon discussion the subject before they met Clark (who jumped out from behind a tree with a spear just in time to kill a zed. However, I wanted to revisit it because, as I mentioned in the cliche lookout, I’m noticing this trope changing significantly in recent works. I find this quite interesting, and I’m not quite sure how to read it. I imagine a big part of it is that zombies are no sure a part of mainstream culture, it’s becoming harder to imagine characters not knowing what they are.

Discussion Question: Could You Use the Zed Word?

Let’s say that the people stopped staying dead, and that their suddenly reanimated corpses would get up and try to kill and eat the living. And let’s also say that the only way to really kill them was to destroy their brain. If you found yourself in this situation, do you think you could actually call them zombies, or do you think that you would have some sort of denial instinct that makes you dance around the word?

40 thoughts on “Episode 292: A Rose By Any Other Name”

  1. The first thing I notice here is that Murphy called them “things” and has yet to say anything about the argument Stew’s getting himself into here! 😀

    If they don’t want to call them zombies, I suggest R.U.C. which I’m calling short for Reanimated Undead Corpse. 😉

    • RUC reminds me of ROUS – rodents of unusual size from The Princess Bride. I approve.

      • I just found this out, look up “ruck” in the dictionary. I was one off getting the ‘k’! 😀

        Glad you approve! 😉

  2. I’d call them walkers, because everyone has heard of the Walking Dead, so

    • I would call them walkers instead of zombies.

      • I’ve never liked the “walkers” thing. It seems like a weird thing to call them, almost like the characters are constantly trying to remind us the name of the show.

        But I guess it’s better than “geeks”, which was just bizarre.

  3. I wouldn’t have any problem calling walking corpses zombies, since that’s what they are. It’s similar, I think, to calling black people black or white people white; there’s a stigmata about it, but if that’s what it is, then that’s what it is.
    The stigmata around characters saying “zombies”, I think, comes from several different things. One is, once the characters start saying the word, it’s acknowledged that they are in a zombie story, and only recently has that been a thing to be proud of.
    Relatedly, the second thing is zombies have been more of a niche entertainment rather than mainstream. Again, recently that’s changed and zombies have been becoming more and more mainstream. Between the CDC’s zombie survival page and the bath salt scare and the hype around World War Z and AMC’s The Walking Dead, zombies have been receiving a lot more attention in recent years. As the general public becomes more aware of the various zombie lores, certain things about them are becoming less niche and more general knowledge.
    Given those main influences, it’s natural that the characters in the stories will be more willing to use the word “zombie” since more and more people are becoming aware of the concept.

    • Excellent thoughts here, Darg.

      One note: you want to say “stigma”. “Stigmata” is a religious miracle in which a person claims to receive Christ’s wounds. So they’re have holes in their wrists, or scratches on thier forehead from the crown of thorns, etc.

      • Heh! You just made the case for the Evolution of Language theme you raised.

        Stigma is the contraction and popularization of Stigmata; which retains the basic meaning of being branded, tattooed, punctured or cut. Yes, Stigmata has come to refer to the alledged wounds of the Christ, but the word is still used in various professions (like medical & psych) in other English speaking countries. A while back in Kenya, some colleagues were sharing how giving an unexplained diagnosis for a mental health condition, say Schizophrenia” was to give that a person a Stigmata and to set them up to be a social pariah in their neighborhoods.

        Likewise, Zombie came to be used for our un-dead genre with it’s own rich heritage, but now, as another example of Language Evolution, it has been abbreviated and popularized as Zees, Zeds, Zoms, etc. Like Stigma/Stigmata, today’s Z meanings have shifted (eg., transition from magical origins to science-based origins); yet, in some parts of the world it still retains it’s original meaning. For example, in parts of West Africa, including Nigeria, rites are used on “recruited”/kidnapped-victims to cement, by terror, their place in the sex-traffic slave. These rites appeal to the shamanistic voodoo heritage & some reference “undying” consequences. BTW: it’s not so much that West African cultures per SE believe in these world views, but rather, the perps appeal to their terrified victims vulnerabilities.

        From the Online Etymological Dictionary:

        zombie (n.)
        1871, of West African origin (cf. Kikongo zumbi “fetish;” Kimbundu nzambi “god”), originally the name of a snake god, later with meaning “reanimated corpse” in voodoo cult. But perhaps also from Louisiana creole word meaning “phantom, ghost,” from Spanish sombra “shade, ghost.” Sense “slow-witted person” is recorded from 1936.

        • Wow, I had no idea stigmata was used like that. I figured they had the same root, and were thus related, but not the usage. Very interesting.

  4. I’d have no problem at all calling them “zombies”. In fact, I think it would help me. If I can think of them as something other than human, it provides some psychological distance and makes it easier to do what needs to be done… i.e. smashing their skulls in.

    • Excellent point, Steven.

    • That’s because, Steven, the majority of human beings are incapable of killing other human beings. In order to do so, we have to turn the other into a Thing, Object or Abstraction in order to “justify” the killing. I used to work with batterers, and to a person, I was told that in those moments before the perpetration acted out that they “Thingified” their victims so as to give them what they “deserved.”

      This was actually a theme raised on this last season of AMC’s, The Walking Dead. Frankenstein Jr. was experimenting on some old fellow on his death-bed, while we the audience where shouting “Kill IT you fool! II’s no longer human!”

      • Very, very interesting point Luis. I find the way people dehumanize others both fascinating and completely unnerving.

    • For TV and Movies if the targets are “Zombies” and you kill them you get a better rating than that of a “human”. Weird how the FCC works.

  5. you know, i pity my friends, he says that hes going to board up Wal-Mart (yea right) and also saying that hes going to make a fire barrier around it.
    I’m not going to be seeing him the apocalypse.

    • Sounds like a pretty terrible idea to me.

  6. I shall call them Mic’n’himer Schmities! It rolls of the tongue like a brick does down a horizontal line.

    But no really I don’t care what people would end up calling them, because all they would be to me is a problem. I’d most likely call them Z-heads or Zeds because that’s what I’ve been calling them for awhile.

    • I’ve long been a fans of “zeds” myself.

    • Calicade, I’m rather partial to the term LFL’s (Late For Lunch) for every successful day me ‘n mine outrun and live to tell the tale. 🙂

    • i’ve got a better idea than boarding yourself up if your safehouse insane asylum. Just be prepared! I’ve got 3 weeks worth in my kit. as long as i have that, no looter is going to beat me to death with a baseball bat.

      • I wouldn’t discount people. Desperate people will do some crazy things.

        • Well like the people in black ops zombies 2, they drive in a bus with no seats, then they but a front of a train on the bus that they found in a shed, how lucky is that? black ops might be fun, but I’d kill myself instead of letting a robot zombie bus driver with no arms drive me through pits of lava! Al though the game still is pretty fun…

  7. “weaklings” because theyre so pitiful.

    • On their own, anyway. In groups? Watch out.

    • I’d call the normal apocalypse plan’s nowdays are from fat kids my age, who are saying random jiberish like “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a gun that shot AK-47’s?” I actually knew some person who said that. and obviously, he was fat.

      • As a fat kid myself, I’d say don’t discount them completely. Just because someone doesn’t know what they’re doing or talking about doesn’t mean they can’t make life very, very difficult for you. Again, desperate people are dangerous. Avoidance is better than being a badass.

        • being a little bit racist here, I dont think that I’ll let any fat kids in my group, they’ll eat all of the food, and a week with 2 fat kids in my group, my survival kit will last me maybe 4 days at the most.

        • How is that racist?

        • well aparently making fun of someone because they’re fat is racist.

        • Uh… no.

        • Interesting point, there is a body of research that may indicate that the tendency of certain individuals to be overweight is actually an evolutionary survival mechanism. The theory is that certain individuals (mostly carnivores) developed the ability to consume more calories and convert them to fat when food was available so that they had greater reserves when food was scarce. They have been studying a tribe of Native Americans who used to inhabit the arid regions of the western US and Mexico and used to have to endure long periods with very little food.

        • That’s right Damage; I’m tubby as a survival instinct!

        • Im not fat, Ive just converted my food rations to a more portable form.

  8. well just to change the subject, you spelled Inez wrong, although i could use that name in my comic…

    • Oops, fixed.

      I don’t own the name Inez; if you want to use the name for a new character, go for it.

  9. really you people r talking about fat people >:( and calling someone fat is not racist seriously grow up

  10. PJ chill man its not a big deal

    • yeah your right sorry

  11. I’m with Stewart here, ‘It’s ridiculous to keep calling them “things” or “Monsters”‘. Call them what they are, zombies. Maybe reduce that to “Zeds” in combat, where economy of speech is important.