Fear is a psychological mechanism the brain employs to keep us alive. It often manifests itself in a “fight or flight” reaction– fight the barking dog– run away from the barking dog.
But phobia is fear with a mind of its own. A phobia is a “persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational.”
Inherent in this fear is the “proximity and the degree to which escape from the phobic stimulus is impossible.” The closer one gets to a spider, the more anxious a person with arachnophobia feels.
So could there be a phobia of the living dead? The question is a little more complex than you might think. Putting aside the question of whether or not zombies exist, it seems reasonable to be afraid of something that can pose a real danger to your well being. But that is not irrational. That is not a phobia.
As pretty much anything under (and including) the sun, can cause anxiety in people– that fear can easily slip into phobia territory. This has created a plethora of phobia terms to describe these fears. It should be noted that few of these terms are found in medical literature. The name of a phobia generally contains a Greek word for what the patient fears plus the suffix -phobia. Case in point:
kinemortophobia, which roughly means: fear of the moving dead.
The problem with this term, which has been bandied about on the internet, is that it is too vague and morphologically incorrect.
Bradley Voytek is Assistant Professor of Computational Cognitive Science and Neuroscience at UC San Diego, and an advisory board member at the Zombie Research Society explains:
First, I’d say [kinemortophobia] is too broad, as “kine-” comes from [the] Greek meaning “motion”, so kinemortophobia could be fear of the “moving dead”, which might include fear of patients exhibiting the Lazarus sign (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lazarus_sign), which is totally unrelated to zombies. Also “mort” is Latin for death, so you’re mixing language roots.
Bradley suggests we invent a proper word for fear of zombies.
What exactly, is it that is being feared?
If it’s a “fear of the walking dead” version, then I would propose we stay simple and use the following:
banecrophobia: from the Greek baínein, meaning “to walk”, and “necro-” for “the dead.”
If, instead, we go for “fear of the living dead”, then:
zonecrophobia: from the Greek “zo-“, meaning “living being”, and “necro-” for “the dead”.
Finally, maybe we could go for a more broad “fear of life without mind”, in which case we should use:
bioapsychephobia: from the Greek “bio-“, meaning “life”, “a-” for “without”, and “psyche-” for “mind”.
But where does this fear really come from?
The term kinetophobia (the pathological fear of movement, either by moving themselves or by watching other people, animals or things move) holds some hint as to the reason for the unreasonable fear of the undead (if we can be so bold to say). Watching something that should in no reasonable way be moving (like a corpse) could easily unnerve anyone– and is captured perfectly in the concept of the uncanny valley (which will be discussed in a future article).
Bradley Voytek asks a key question in his linguistic exercise. What exactly is being feared? Understanding that question could lead to a deeper understanding of why we fear anything– what makes us afraid, and why we both love and hate to be scared. After all, it’s a key ingredient in horror movies and rollercoasters, and why we both avoid and seek out this emotion. It definitely reminds us that we’re alive, which is unlike that thing shuffling behind you.