also zombi, jumbie, 1788, possibly representing two separate words, one relating to the dead and the other to authority figures, but if so historically these were not kept distinct in English-speaking usage. The oldest attested sense in English is "'spirits of dead wicked men [...] that torment the living.'" The sense of "reanimated corpse" is by 1929 (Seabrook). The word usually is said to be of West African origin (compare Kikongo zumbi "fetish" and djumbi "ghost). A sense of "slow-witted person" is recorded from 1936.
It also is attested from 1819 as a title for a chief, in an Afro-Brazilian context. This is said to be directly from the Angolan (Kimbundu) nzambi, "deity." The meaning "witch" is attested by 1910, that of "deity" is by 1921. Grand Zombi as the name of a deity in Voodoo practices is in English by 1904. Zombi was also used as a name for pets in 19c.
updated on January 30, 2023