In the old voodoo religions of Western Africa, there was a snake god named the zombi. There was a general theme of similar words in the Bantu family; in various cultures, words emerged like zumbi ("fetish", the idol type), nzambi, ("god") and eventually zombie, still referring to the snake god. Later, when some of these Western Africans were taken to the Caribbean as slaves, they brought their language with them, and it mixed with Spanish and other tongues, especially in Haitian creole, where zombie ("god") and the Spanish word sombra ("ghost") kind of fused to form zombie ("ghost god", or, more accurately, "reanimated person", since they were basically synonymous). This idea of the dead rising from the grave was too tempting for Hollywood to pass up (it was first used in the 1932 film White Zombie), so the word wormed its way into our pop culture to be ingrained in the nightmares of children forever.
Adam Aleksic, a freshman studying linguistics at Harvard University, has been described as the internet's sixth most famous etymologist. He has disturbing interests in words, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law, and he loves writing about himself in the third person.
The Etymology Nerd