Etymology
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vamp (v.)

"extemporize on a piano," 1789, from vamp (n.1) "upper part of a shoe or boot," via verbal sense of "provide a stocking (later a shoe) with a new vamp" (1590s), then "patch up, repair" (compare revamp). Related: Vamped; vamping.

vamp (n.1)

"upper of a shoe or boot," 1650s, earlier "part of a stocking that covers the foot and ankle" (c. 1200), from Anglo-French *vaumpé, from Old French avantpié "vamp of a shoe," from avant "in front" (see avant) + pié "foot," from Latin pes "foot" (from PIE root *ped- "foot").

vamp (n.2)

"seductive woman who exploits men," 1915, popular shortening of vampire, which exists in this sense by 1909 in the novel A Fool There Was by Porter Emerson Browne, based on a Kipling poem written in conjunction with a painting called "The Vampire" by Kipling's cousin Philip Burne-Jones. The poem and painting were first exhibited together in 1897.

A fool there was and he made his prayer
     (Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care)
But the fool, he called her his lady fair
     (Even as you and I.)
[Kipling, from "The Vampire"]

The 1915 film A Fool There Was, based on the novel, is credited with bringing the term vamp into the mainstream after Theda Bara's debut role as The Vampire propelled her to stardom. The word was in print in reference to dangerous women within a month of the movie's premier.

"So you're going to turn vampire for revenge?" I inquired.
"Me for the vamp stuff," she assured me earnestly.
[William Slavens McNutt, "The Rocky Road of Rectitude," in Munsey's, February 1915]

Previously the word was used as a pejorative for men, perhaps shortened from vamper, originally indicating dishonest men who stole or cheated through trickery (in this sense, by 1864). The male word may have influenced the clipping of the female vampire.

N.B. The print OED citation of Chesterton using the word vamp in this sense in 1911 cannot be confirmed; the sentence quoted might be from 1926.

updated on January 12, 2023

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