Hey y’all! In honor of my comfort read mystery book that I posted about yesterday (Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, by the way!) I’m doing a word origin post on vampire today. And I can’t believe I never thought of this before, to be honest, because it had quite a lot to dig into and learn!
Origins of “vampire”
When did it first get used?
1732, in French
What does it mean?
a “spectral being in a human body who maintains semblance of life by leaving the grave at night to suck the warm blood of the living as they sleep”
Or if you want to get a little loose with it, “night-walking, blood-gorged, plague-spreading undead corpses”
What did it come from?
HOOOOO BOY GET READY FOR A RIDE!
So yes, the most common meaning of, you know, a vampire:
And honestly it comes from many places in Europe around the same time:
The 1800s saw a huge surge of vampire gothic novels, olden day Twilight and Vampire Diaries and such but probably more genuinely scary and evil as opposed to our modern anti-hero vision that often accompanies vampire stories.
If you really want to dig into it though?? There are old reports from even 1196 of that second, creepier definition above. Now I’d argue that plague-spreading undead corpses sound more like zombies, but still, it’s worth noting.
On the other side, we have the people who were actually practical and serious about vampirism. Namely, when a blood-sucking bat was found and they called it vampiric. Makes sense. Go biology!
Bonus #1: vamp
Alright now, I’ve also heard the term “vamp” thrown around before, usually in kind of old-timey stuff. My vague impression was that it was kind of derogatorily aimed at women. My sense was like, sexy women who know they’re sexy and enjoy looking sexy? So let’s see:
When was it first used: 1915
What does it mean: a seductive woman who exploits men
Ah. It all makes sense. It’s exactly what I thought, plus using the sexiness to manipulate people who like sexy women. Equally unsurprising is that there are a ton of movies with this kind of character (and novels too, I’m sure).
One thing I learned from this was that calling a dude a vamper also used to be insulting. For men, it was more about dishonest people who tricked or cheated people, kind of like a con man it sounds (1864). Kind of wild that for men, their immorality was about stealing and lying, and for women, it was about being a seductive woman. I’m going to stop before I start off on a tangent about how fucking stupid that is but just know: there’s a rant ongoing in my head for sure. 😐
Bonus #2: lamia??
OOOH GOODIE A REALLY COOL ONE! Now lamias I know from video games, and MAN are they usually really fucking cool. They’re basically snake women. I don’t know if they’re women by definition or if game designers just like boobed-up mythical creatures, but that’s how I’ve usually seen them.
When was it first used: 1300s
What does it mean: it literally means swallower or lecher, but more generally it’s grown to mean a female demon
Yo tracking this one is fun. The root of it appears to be mixing the word for throat with the phrase for “spirits of the dead” which is so fucking dope. Can we mix more things with that word and see what we get?? I assume the “swallow” / “throat” portion is why so many visualizations have it as a snake woman.
Latin and Greek had this pegged as a witch, female vampire, man-eating monster, etc. Apparently even in the bible this word was used to describe screech owls and sea monsters? Kind of a weird mix but okay.
Now for the whole point of me putting this post together: posting cool pictures of lamias. Note the wide difference and constant sexualization in some of these too. Even female demons and sea monsters have to be sexy.
5 thoughts on “Word Origins: Vampires, and vamps, and …lamias?”
Lamia are pretty neat, and I think they go underutilized in a lot of fantasy media, most game or story developers will just use “naga” or a generic “medusa” which I have PLENTY of problems with. More lamia representation, devs
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Aren’t they dope? I tried to think if WoW has any but I could only think of the Naga there as well.
This is a cool look at word origins! I remember one English class in high school had us look up words in the OED and I really enjoyed that, but I haven’t gone back and done it since. Thanks for the memories (as well as the info on vampire & lamia origins).
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Oh wow I remember doing the same now that you mention it! I wonder if that’s where this interest started for me too? Open to word suggestions! 😊
I’ll let you know if I think of any good ones!