vampire

The origin of the name for this blood-sucking, undead, creature of the night is somewhat in dispute. The appearance of the word vampire in English is from sometime before 1734 as it appears in Travels of Three English Gentlemen as part of The Harleian Miscellany which was published in that year:

These Vampyres are supposed to be the Bodies of deceased Persons, animated by evil Spirits, which come out of the Graves, in the Night-time, suck the Blood of many of the Living, and thereby destroy them.

Metaphorical use of the term dates to at least 1741. This early date suggests the term was well known in English by the 1730s and earlier citations than 1734 may well be found. From Charles Forman’s 1741 Some Queries and Observations Upon the Revolution in 1688:

These are the vampires of the publick, and riflers of the kingdom.

Bram Stoker wrote the novel Dracula in 1897. So while Stoker invented much, if not most, of modern vampire “lore,” he did not invent the word.

Most dictionaries agree that the English word is borrowed from French, although the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary admits the possibility that German is the proximate origin. Beyond this the trail gets muddy.

The trouble is that the word has cognates in many European languages and it has been nearly impossible to figure out which languages borrowed from which or whether the word developed in multiple languages from a common root. Most sources point to the Hungarian vampir as the probable root. The next leading candidate is Serbo-Croatian. And even Greek gets a few supporters. Other than being Eastern European in origin, we can’t really say where the word comes from.

(Sources: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition; Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 5th Edition; American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition)

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