I decided to revamp my footwear a little, so I bought a new pair of shoes. I wore them today, and they’re nice, but they do need some more wearing. The vamp keeps biting down on the metatarsophalangeal joints, especially of the hallux. Sucks a little.

Whoa! Did you feel like you just took a sudden turn into fantasy fiction? Perhaps I broke into a little free extemporization? Is it a vamplified text?

I should explain that your hallux is your big toe (boy, that’s a word I need to taste, and soon). The metatarsophalangeal joint is the joint where a toe joins the foot – or individuates from it, if you see it the other way. And the vamp? Female readers probably know this already; my wife sure does. (Guys may pay less attention to the construction of their footwear.) It’s the part of a shoe covering the top front of the foot up to the toe cap (if there is one).

But why vamp? I get an image of Dracula as a foot fetishist. Or perhaps of some husky-voiced Jessica Rabbit type, a real maneater (va-va-voom). This is a quick bite of vampire, which comes from the Hungarian vampir. My shoes may be black and grey, but vampires come with lots of black and red. The very v of the word brings to mind the widow’s peak of the vampire’s hairline – or the plunging neckline on the vamp’s dress.

But no: etymologically, something’s afoot. Something’s a forefoot, in fact: French avant-pied, which – way back in Old French – was avantpié, becoming in Norman French vampé, and in English vampe, ultimately vamp. The beginning and end got bitten off – after all, the word starts with the teeth biting the lip, and ends shortly thereafter with the lips pressed together; how could any of it on either side of those constrictions not fall away?

But never mind that. It could still get around. In fact, that word, which referred first to the part of a stocking that covered the ankle and foot, and then came to refer to the piece of a shoe covering the top front of the foot, has come also to refer to patching, repairing, renovating, furbishing, and from there to improvising – particularly musical extemporizing. And of course the verb revamp comes from the “renovate” sense.

Come to think of it, all those new vampire books and movies and TV shows are sort of revamping the whole vampire idea. But I’d just as soon give them the boot. Not with my new shoes, though.

3 responses to “vamp

  1. Have you read “Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee? It’s a book about the history of cancer – a biography, of sorts. At the end of one chapter, the author indulges in a little bit of word tasting too:

    “The next regimen they would try would be a combination of all four drugs: vincristine, amethopterin, mercaptopurine, and prednisone. The regimen would be known by a new acronym, with each letter standing for one of the drugs: VAMP.

    The name had many intended and unintended resonances. Vamp is a word that means to improvise or patch up, to cobble something together from bits and pieces that might crumble apart any second. It can mean a seductress – one who promises but does not deliver. It also refers to the front of a boot, the part that carries the full brunt of force during a kick.”

  2. Do feckless young soldiers risk being vamperized by vamp-followers?

  3. Pingback: hallux | Sesquiotica

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s