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DEFINITION OF THE MODERN ZOMBIE

DEFINITION OF THE MODERN ZOMBIE

The Oxford English Dictionary is widely regarded as the premier dictionary of the English language and is rated the most comprehensive dictionary on the planet by Guinness World Records. It includes specific definitions for countless obscure and unusual monsters, including the infamous chupacabra of Latin America and Bigfoot’s Himalayan cousin, the albino yeti. But it does not include an accurate definition of the modern zombie.

It instead focuses solely on the slave like zombie of Afro-Haitian tradition that is unrelated to the modern zombie of contemporary pop culture.

Does this mean that nearly every movie, video game, event, and organization that celebrates zombies simply doesn’t exist? Are the tens of millions of people who participate in zombie walks, zombie proms, zombie pub crawls, and zombie festivals across the planet gathered to express their interest in a non-thing? Or, instead, is the modern zombie being overlooked?

It seems that billions of dollars in annual revenue across multiple platforms still can’t put the modern zombie officially on the map.

Based on an extensive study of the modern zombie’s evolution over the past half century and on countless interviews with zombie fans and scholars across the globe, here is its definition:

The modern zombie is a relentlessly aggressive, reanimated human corpse driven by a biological infection.

By breaking down the definition into its component parts, three key elements emerge against which all manner of creature can be quickly and easily judged. These three definitional elements of the modern zombie are:

  1. It is a reanimated human corpse
  2. It is relentlessly aggressive
  3. It is biologically infected and infectious

This definition is intended to be narrow enough to clearly identify the modern zombie’s unique characteristics and broad enough to apply equally to 1968’s original Night of the Living Dead as to the zombie films being conceived and produced today.

So what do you think of this definition? What did we get right, and what needs to be tweaked?

29 comments

  1. Is it an accepted belief by this community that other mammals can reanimate as zombies?
    Other mammals including horses, dogs, cats, deer, etc.

  2. I am currently writing an essay for my college English class on zombies. My teacher tried to shoot me down but i argued it and won. So as part of said essay It helps to have a definition of “Zombie”. The Haitian zombie doesn’t apply to current pop culture references so for my purpose is worthless, to an extent. The film/ graphic novel 28 days later implies zombies and defines them by behavior. Most notable difference is they don’t have to die. They are in fact still alive, while even the T-virus kills its host. While I argue that the rage virus doesn’t qualify as an actual zombie virus, I still can see the connection, causing me to adjust my definition and adapt to “new research”. They all share common traits, such as the human inside is no more. Meaning the part that makes us human, is gone. Remorse, fear, self preservation, and fatigue are all taken away. Leaving you with a Severely aggressive being who’s intent is pure and simple, kill and/or convert the uninfected. I have no objection to the biological point because in all material, no matter how it originates, it spreads through biological means.

  3. 1. Lacks awareness of its situation/doesn’t know it’s a zombie/single-minded/mindless/insane (2 or more must apply)
    2. Cannibalistic/seemingly unending hunger
    3. Is infectious

    This could be used as probably the broadest definition of a zombie. It strays away from the need for the zombie to be a re-animated corpse so it could fit in with things like the 28 days later zombies as well as the Romero films.

    • I think Tarbel’s definition is appropriately comprehensive. It also ties in to the discussion on decay theory – if a zombie doesn’t have to be reanimated, as is the case for the infected in 28 Days Later, then the duration of the outbreak may be significantly different, as would the methods used to combat the infected. If the bodies of the infected are living instead of dead, destroying the brain specifically is less imperative, as a bullet through the heart or massive bleeding to the point of organ and heart failure would be sufficient to kill the infected. (It’s a whole different question whether the infection could then reanimate the body, creating a hybrid of the two types of infected.) In addition, the bodies of the infected would not decay if they were still alive, so zombies without serious injuries could ostensibly last quite a bit longer than the two to three weeks of “fresh” decay that would render a rotting corpse immobile. There are pros and cons in either scenario. I think the distinction between living infected and undead infected is crucial – it changes the whole situation, from the effects of the infection to the means of survival for the uninfected. But a good definition of zombies should take both possibilities into account, so I think Tarbel’s summary is a good one.

    • I disagree with cannibalistic, the hordes in 28 days later didn’t in fact “eat” the uninfected. They bit and ripped flesh through biting but never was it shown or implied they ate them. They were infected with “Rage”, meaning they were pissed off and wanted to cause as much physical harm as possible through all means possible.

  4. I think the easiest way to reslove this would be to say that the “condition of being a zombie” or “zombification” is contagious. Rather than “biologically infected and infectious” that way you’re covered on all bases Biological, radioactive, hoodoo-voodoo or otherwise. Besides, definition point one is that a zombie is the reainmated corpse of a human, so the biological part is a given anyway, any organinc matter is biological.

    This being said, I would also argue with the tem “re-animated”. yes, traditionally it was only the dead come back to life that were classified as zombies however if you look also at the alternative definition of zombie you get ” a person whose behavior or responses are wooden, listless, or seemingly rote; automaton.” Which would usually refer to a person with a bad hangover or somesuch.

    I think the official definition should be ajusted to include the 28 Days/Weeks later type creatures but also looking at Return of the Living Dead part 2 when the Characters Frank and Freddy are exposed to the zombification casuing chemical; yes they die however their bodies never cease animation in the process, thus making them not re-animated human bodies, but zombies none-the-less.

    Im not exactly sure how it should be worded but I think this should be taken into consideration to finally put the arguement to rest and to cement the likes of 28 Days/Weeks in the zombie genre where they belong.

  5. I agree with the definition but you can’t leave out #4 which is a living human zombies or ” Modern Zombie” that has not ate/drink anything in days and will do anything in its power to eat/drink, like coming after other humans that have supplies,food,water,weapons,shelter classifying it as a zombie. Given the fact if that actually happens I will have my weapons ready and I’m pretty sure the government will have something to do with it. Example: NWO. Be prepared my fellow Americans!

    • Good point! We talk a lot about the human threat in the “human threat” section of the blog. Totally agree other people are as dangerous, or MORE dangerous, than actual zombies.

  6. Remove definitional element #1 and I would consider that elements #2 & #3 leave us with a fair assesment of what I would call “Human”. So , staying within the scope and framework of your research along with the intention of your definition to be “narrow enough to clearly identify the modern zombie’s unique characteristics” I would simply expand element #1 to read:
    A human corpse reanimated by an unknown means.
    This is the best approach if you are to remain “scientific”. Nothing else needs to be added to this definition. For sake of any further disscussion or clare(redfield)ifcation concerning what one might call a “Zombie” we should simply use already clearly defined and widely accepted words. Such as fast or smart, or male or female. Consider googling “Integrated Taxonomic Information System” if further clarification of what itis is required;)

  7. I completely agree with that definition. Even in Romero movies, the plague could easily be airborne, however the airborne strain might only be able to infect dead tissue. The great thing about Romero movies is that he always leaves something to the imagination. He has often stated that he uses zombies as a metaphor for any man-made or natural disaster and if zombies ever fell out of favor he would just as easily make a movie about hurricanes.

  8. I think relentless aggressive with no self awareness is appropriate. They are simply driven by one carnal urge – the need to feed. They share common characteristics of other monsters – some agility, and brute strength.

  9. Hmm, are zombies always biologically infected? Many modern films have made it something spiritual or even radiation from a passing comet.
    Since zombies are technically fictional, shouldn’t it leave an open door.

    • For the most part, even films that start off spiritual turn the infection biological very quickly – meaning: the first zombie might be raised through some magical act, but then all other zombies are created by spreading the infection just like a blood-borne illness. In terms of radiation, that would also be considered a biological infection in this definition – it is not magical. You are infected with radiation and then become a zombie.

  10. I think that my only concern regarding the proposed definition would be that if the zombie outbreak is parasitic in nature, would that still be referred to as an “infection”? I think that terminology works if the parasite is the cause of a specific disease, but not necessarily if the parasite itself is the cause of the reanimation. If not, it may be helpful to add “or parasitic infestation” to cover this eventuality.

  11. So just to be clear, the zombie had to of been alive at some point, died, then come back to life. Recent zombie movies and video games have the victims become mindless flesh eaters without actually dying e.g Left 4 Dead, 28 days later. So I guess it seems they aren’t technically zombies, just infected. Not arguing with the whole definition btw. I think it works well, just trying to add a little clarity.

  12. If we’re dealing with a fictional account of a zombie outbreak sparked by something other than a biological infection, would they not qualify as zombies? Even if they fit every other criteria in your definition?

    • Every other criteria…as in the other 2. And yes, anything that isn’t a biological infection does not qualify as zombies. I mean you can call anything zombies if you want to, seeing as how it’s not in the dictionary. But if human corpses came back and were relentlessly aggressive, you could call them zombies, but the ZRS wouldn’t, probably ghouls, like how Romero called his “zombies” in Night of the Living Dead.

      • So you’re saying Romero’s movies aren’t actually zombie movies? Are you mad? There’s an article on this website called “Romero INVENTED Flesh Eaters” where even the ZRS acknowledges the fact that George A. Romero invented zombies as we know them. Now you’re saying he’s wrong in calling them zombies just because his explanation wasn’t a viral outbreak?

        • Romero is the father of the modern zombie, and he is also on the Board of Zombie Research Society. When we say “biological infection” that does not have the mean virus. In Romero’s movies it is a biological infection – meaning: it’s not supernatural and it have infected people to change them.

          • On the movie jacket of “Night of the Living Dead” it explains that the outbreak is caused by a space probe of some sort. Would you consider that to be supernatural? And in that film, people who were previously deceased were reanimated without coming into contact with an infected person. The film itself never actually touches on what caused the outbreak in the first place, so to say for certain that it was a “biological infection” is impossible. It may not have been the bite itself which caused the person to reanimate, it could simply be that they died, and were reanimated by some extra-terrestrial force.

    • there are rarely ever any zombie movies/books/etc. that do not include a biological infection. Even if it starts out as a curse or something magical, it quickly becomes a biological infection. Meaning: if you get attacked and infected, you then turn into a zombie. This is the biological process we’re talking about.

      By contrast, you don’t get turned into a zombie by someone putting a spell on you, or you doing something that is bad luck (like stealing a sacred object). You get turned into a zombie by being bitten and infected.

      This is the case with rare exception it seems to us.

      • Romero zombies don’t entirely fit with that. You do not need to be bitten or infected, you just have to die with your brain left intact. People who are bitten always die, so it’s a factor, but it’s not a prerequisite.

      • The article following this one is called “Can ZOMBIES Learn New Things”. The ability to learn anything requires at least a slim measure of consciousness. So then a “zombie” who can learn new things would, by your rationale, no longer be called a zombie. Yet the ZRS still uses the term “zombie”.

        It seems silly to me to try so hard to create such a specific definition when no one knows exactly what the zombie apocalypse will look like. When anyone mentions the Solanum virus from Max Brooks’ books, they are always reminded that the Solanum virus isn’t actually real and zombie may not follow that definition exactly. We don’t know what zombies will look like, how they will behave, or how they will come to exist in the first place. Therefore, in my opinion, it is impossible to establish a specific definition at this point. Any definition would have to be flexible enough to include different possibilities. If the dead reanimate and start walking the earth, call them ghouls and change your name to the Ghoul Research Society if you like, but I will still call them zombies.

  13. I disagree with the third part of the definition. Romero’s zombies, for example, were driven by some kind of infection. In some stories, movies etc. the cause for the rise of the dead is unknown and all corpses return as monsters, not just the bitten (infected).

    • Good point, but what we were getting as is that zombies are based in biology, not superstition or myth. And if they attack you, and/or you get blood or fluid on you then you become a zombie too.

      But we totally agree that artists often create their own variations.

  14. You forgot to add that they gorge on the living, human or animal, so run for your life!

  15. I think the most important element is that a zombie lacks self awareness or any true human consciousness. It’s more important than it being a reanimated corpse, IMO. There are other types of aggressive reanimated corpses (vampires, mummies, etc), and some are even infectious, but they’re not zombies.

    • I think being relentlessly aggressive implies a lack of self awareness, or any true human consciousness. Also, vampires aren’t relentlessly aggressive, they use logic and deception. Mummies are protectors of land or precious items, and not biological.

      • Hm. I don’t agree that relentless aggression implies a lack of awareness or consciousness. It might imply a level of aggression that’s not human, but I do think other monsters aside from vampires have it while being self-aware. Any zombie that talks has a level of awareness. To me, talking zombies are in their own category of camp. That’s OK, but I would consider living zombies like the infected in 28 Days Later to be more true zombies than the talking undead zombies in Return of the Living Dead.

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