[ vamp ]
/ væmp /
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See synonyms for: vamp / vamped on Thesaurus.com

verb (used with object)
verb (used without object)
Jazz. to improvise an accompaniment, tune, etc.
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The rainy weather could not ________ my elated spirits on my graduation day.
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Origin of vamp

1175–1225; Middle English vampe<Anglo-French; Middle French avant-pie, equivalent to avant- fore- (see avaunt) + pie foot (French pied;see -ped)


vamper, nounvampish, adjective

Other definitions for vamp (2 of 2)

[ vamp ]
/ væmp /

a seductive woman who uses her sensuality to exploit men.
verb (used with object)
to use feminine charms upon; seduce.
verb (used without object)
to act as a vamp.

Origin of vamp

First recorded in 1905–10; short for vampire
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What else does vamping mean?

Vamping originally refers to repairing shoes with a new, upper part called a vamp. That action has been metaphorically extended to refer to such things as improvising chords on a piano or speaking off the cuff before a group of people.

In slang, vamping, based on vampire, means “staying up all night,” especially on one’s phone.

What are some other words related to vamping?


Where does vamping come from?

Let’s begin with footwear. Recorded around 1200, a vamp originally referred to the upper part of a shoe or boot—the part that covered the tokes and ankle. Thanks to modern manufacturing, we don’t really use this sense of vamp anymore. But the word does live on in a familiar word: revamp. Vamps of boots and shoes would wear down, naturally, and so cobblers would vamp shoes, that is, give them a new vamp. The verb vamp (recorded by the 1600s) came to describe fixing not just new vamps onto shoes, but patching up anything. Vamp’s notion of repairing inspired revamp, “to renovate, redo, revise,” first recorded around 1840–50.

Now, to something we do with our feet: dancing to music. If you vamp, or patch something together, that’s apparently sort of like improvising a part to a song, especially piano chords to accompany a melody or solo. The musical sense of vamping is recorded by the late 1700s, but it is closely associated with jazz today. In jazz, pianists vamp or play a vamp when they make up some simple chords they repeat, sometimes to buy a little time or for other musical effects. While commonly found in jazz, vamping is a staple in other genres of music, too.

People also vamp—or extemporize, to use a fancy word—when they are speaking off the cuff, buying time, repurposing old material, or otherwise winging it in a presentation, performance, speech, or the like.

The slang vamping, however, has nothing to do with vamping shoes, revamping houses, or vamping on pianos. Recorded in the early 2010s, this vamping means “staying up all night,” especially by spending time on their phones and social media—something we are all far too guilty of. It comes from vampire, that mythical creature known for its nocturnal activities.

How is vamping used in real life?

Vamping to describe a musical technique is used primarily by, you guessed it, musicians and music aficionados.

Vamping, for stalling while speaking in public, is often used pejoratively. The term implies that the person has run out of new things to say. However, vamping is also used neutrally or positively to describe, for instance, someone buying time when getting an audience ready for the next speaker.

Actors and models are also said to vamp for the camera—making up poses, small-talking, and the like while tape is rolling but before any of the action begins, because there’s no script, or just to get some more candid content.

Finally, vamping, for staying up all night (while tweeting and texting), is generally used by or associated with young people. After all, pulling all-nighters is typically a young person’s game. Someone who vamps this way can be called a vamper.

More examples of vamping:

“Vamping harmony can be a good choice if your goal is to focus attention on other elements of a song, such as lyrics, or rhythmic groove.”
—Steve Hogan, Pandora, October 2013

“At one point [in Season 3 of the show Dear White People, the character] Sam is working on her film thesis, and her process includes milling around her large network of acquaintances and capturing random conversations on camera. She is repeatedly accused of stalling, or ‘vamping,’ ….”
—Shannon Miller, A.V. Club, Juy 2019

How to use vamp in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for vamp (1 of 2)

/ (væmp) informal /

a seductive woman who exploits men by use of her sexual charms
to exploit (a man) in the fashion of a vamp

Derived forms of vamp

vamper, nounvampish, adjective

Word Origin for vamp

C20: short for vampire

British Dictionary definitions for vamp (2 of 2)

/ (væmp) /

something patched up to make it look new
the reworking of a theme, story, etc
an improvised accompaniment, consisting largely of chords
the front part of the upper of a shoe
(tr often foll by up) to give a vamp to; make a renovation of
to improvise (an accompaniment) to (a tune)

Derived forms of vamp

vamper, noun

Word Origin for vamp

C13: from Old French avantpié the front part of a shoe (hence, something patched), from avant- fore- + pié foot, from Latin pēs
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012