The siren’s call

One of the things I’ve come to realize over the several months I’ve been writing this series about unusual or unfamiliar words and phrases is that most of them have either multiple meanings or their definitions have evolved to something quite different than their original meanings. Like several of its predecessors, this week’s word has a history and, in addition, its meaning varies depending on whether it is used as a noun, a verb, or acronym. This week’s word is “vamp”…

An unfamiliar use for most of us is from 19th century America, as an old-fashioned term for volunteer firemen as in “Voluntary Association of Master Pumpers.” Among other things, this term has the distinction of being one of the earliest recorded acronyms.

The word was once widely understood to apply to a seductive woman. This use is also very old, relating to a 1914 movie in which a female vampire used sexual desire to exploit (vamp!) men.

There are other, more prosaic uses of the word. For example, it refers to the part of a boot, shoe, or stocking that covers the instep and toes of the foot. This usage is also the genesis of the related term “revamp,” which, in general, means to repair or refurbish an item. Before mass production made it less expensive to replace than to repair, it was common for people to revamp their shoes, i.e., to replace the leather fronts to prolong the life of an expensive pair of shoes. Revamp, in modern usage, refers to almost any kind of renovation or refurbishment, as in “I’m going to revamp my __________” (you fill in the blank).

Finally, “vamp” is also used in the entertainment world. In its purist sense, the term means to repeat a few musical measures until the live entertainers are ready. More generally, it refers to any kind of improvisation meant to distract the audience until the primary players are ready to perform.

Posted for Jenny Matlock’s Alphabe-Thursday current study of the letter “V.” I was a consistent poster for most of Round 5, but ran out of steam before we got to “Z.” Because I hate to leave anything undone, I am returning to the end of Round 6 to complete the entries I missed.
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Sources for this post include:

Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins
Wikipedia ~ vamp
The Word Detective ~ revamp
World Wide Words ~ vamp

9 thoughts on “The siren’s call

  1. Funny the things we never knew, or knew but never really think about. When I see the word “vamp” I think of the sexy woman connotation. Thanks for this exploration of a multipurpose word.

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