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Apr 16, 2024 - 11:45:34 AM
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sethb

USA

722 posts since 2/16/2005

I've been using words like "gig" and "vamp" for quite a while, but I've never bothered to stop and figure out what they actually meant or where they came from.  Supposedly "gig" is short for "engagement," as in "the band was engaged to play for two hours on Sunday afternoon."  While that's a little farfetched, at least it's feasible. 

But "vamp" is a tougher nut to crack.  I've got plenty of 1920's sheet music that includes a two- or four-bar phrase before the verse with the phrase "Vamp Until Ready" written above it.  Most dictionaries agree that a musical "vamp" is "a simple introductory passage, usually repeated several times until otherwise instructed."  It doesn't seem to be related to the other meaning of "vamp," which was a term for a female seductress, perhaps short for "vampire." 

As to the source of the word, things get muddier.  At least one dictionary says "vamp" derives from the French word for "sock," while Wikipedia says "a vamp" is also the flexible portion of a shoe upper that's located between the toe and the laces.  Since in either case, a sock or a shoe "covers" the foot, maybe a "musical vamp" is something that "covers" the band or a singer until they are ready to continue with the tune?   That's even more farfetched, but it's the best I could do on short notice.

Does anyone else have any more thoughts or info on these terms?  SETH 

Apr 16, 2024 - 7:32:43 PM
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3341 posts since 3/30/2008

Slang & idioms are some of the more difficult origins to pin down, & one will encounter many folk etymologies.

Apr 16, 2024 - 7:42:11 PM
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84 posts since 4/24/2019

To vamp is to improvise in music. A google search turned up this etymology, FWIW: "From Old French avanpié, from avant (fore) + pié (foot), from Latin pes (foot)."

Apr 17, 2024 - 3:26:02 AM

361 posts since 6/20/2020

Slang - whether in the form of Victorian back-slang, rhyming slang or 21st century street gang terminology - is intended to obscure and exclude anyone not part of an 'in-group'. It relates to power and privacy within communication; being one step ahead.

The street origins of slang vocabulary obscure and frustrate any attempt at a standard etymology. 'Source' can be guessed at but there is seldom if ever irrefutable or reliable documented or 'first-hand' evidence confirming 'the' origin of slang vocabulary or association. For example we know a real person 'Ruby Murray' is the basis for the Cockney rhyming slang 'Ruby' meaning curry. We may know who she was, her dates and period of popularity. But there is no paper trail confirming who by or where this association was first used. The closest we get is approximation.

It is similar when we attempt to examine the origins of many other vernacular forms e.g. football crowd chants. We can identify the melody. We can hear the words adapted to that melody on a Saturday afternoon. How this adaptation ends up as an accepted form on the terraces of football grounds both as specific to one club or as a universal form is lost at a street level for which, by definition, no 'records' exist.

Edited by - Pomeroy on 04/17/2024 03:37:44

Apr 17, 2024 - 5:47:07 AM

majesty

Canada

345 posts since 3/20/2011

Re musical slang:

"GIG" means your next musical job, or paid performance.

" VAMP" is very short intro to a song , usually two bars, repeated over and over again with the same chords. An example of a vamp could be: C, Am, Dm7,G7 played in 2/4 time. .
See "That Old Black Magic", with Louis Prima and Keeley Smith,on You Tube. Other songs that use a vamp are Blue Moon, Can't Help Loving That Gal Of Mine, from Showboat. An other example of a VAMP is when the M.C. of a show introduces a special guest behind the curtain while a vamp is being played, the curtain opens and there is Eddie Cantor, or Al Jolson, etc.

Apr 17, 2024 - 5:50:46 AM

RB3

USA

2017 posts since 4/12/2004

There's also a Bluegrass banjo connotation that is commonly associated with the word "vamping". Earl Scruggs used the word "vamping" in his instruction book to refer to an accompaniment technique in which the player holds a three or four finger left hand chord form, pinches two or three strings simultaneously with the picking hand, and then immediately releases the finger pressure of the fretting hand to achieve a muted, percussive effect.

Apr 17, 2024 - 6:39:29 AM
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355 posts since 11/22/2009

The word 'gig'. I read that the word 'gig' originated in the early days of New Orleans. The bands used to go to a 'gig' in a horse drawn carriage / wagon---known as a 'gig'.

Apr 17, 2024 - 7:13:47 AM

8262 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Pomeroy

Slang - whether in the form of Victorian back-slang, rhyming slang or 21st century street gang terminology - is intended to obscure and exclude anyone not part of an 'in-group'. It relates to power and privacy within communication; being one step ahead.

The street origins of slang vocabulary obscure and frustrate any attempt at a standard etymology. 'Source' can be guessed at but there is seldom if ever irrefutable or reliable documented or 'first-hand' evidence confirming 'the' origin of slang vocabulary or association. For example we know a real person 'Ruby Murray' is the basis for the Cockney rhyming slang 'Ruby' meaning curry. We may know who she was, her dates and period of popularity. But there is no paper trail confirming who by or where this association was first used. The closest we get is approximation.

It is similar when we attempt to examine the origins of many other vernacular forms e.g. football crowd chants. We can identify the melody. We can hear the words adapted to that melody on a Saturday afternoon. How this adaptation ends up as an accepted form on the terraces of football grounds both as specific to one club or as a universal form is lost at a street level for which, by definition, no 'records' exist.


Ah yes, "Vamp" is a pure example of the exclusivity of musicians. A secret term whispered under the watchful eye of the musicians Illuminati!  It is my understanding that defining "vamp" was a mandatory question to answer before getting issued a musicians union card.

...only it was being included in musical dictionaries by the late 1890s, so-- not that exclusive. 

https://archive.org/details/cu31924021632652/page/n460/mode/1up

 

Not to mention an entire tutor devoted to it for banjo, by name:

https://archive.org/details/turnerspopularvampingtutorforthebanjohavelockmason/mode/2up

The Marine Band harmonica was marketed as the "Echo Vamper" in England and Europe:

Apr 17, 2024 - 7:56:49 AM

8262 posts since 9/21/2007

Edited by - Joel Hooks on 04/17/2024 07:58:08

Apr 17, 2024 - 8:58:47 AM

361 posts since 6/20/2020

Joel, slang absolutely has a motivation in some way linked to excluding an 'other'. In Victorian times that 'other' may have been the customers of costermongers and street traders or the policeman on his beat or simply in a wider sense those viewed by the users as 'outsiders'. The initial users of slang forms want to be understood only by their co-users, not by the general public and certainly not the police.

Over time it's typical that some slang forms are assimilated into common usage. They then become general idioms or initially in some contexts signifiers of 'cool'  or a means of identifying with what is perceived as 'cool' i.e. they lose their original function and become part of colloquial language. That's not contentious sociological theory it's a consistently observed pattern in a wide range of geographical locations. 

Edited by - Pomeroy on 04/17/2024 09:07:31

Apr 17, 2024 - 10:32:22 AM

8262 posts since 9/21/2007

Mike, it is pretty obvious that I failed out of English class, but is it possible that you are confusing slang for jargon?

Apr 17, 2024 - 12:34:51 PM

sethb

USA

722 posts since 2/16/2005

I should probably take the "slang/jargon" blame, since I was the one who initiated this discussion!

After reading all the interesting replies, it seems to me that the words "gig" and "vamp," as well as other musical terms such as "cut time," "common time" and "stop-time," are actually just shortcuts or abbreviations.  After all, it's much easier and faster to tell someone to "vamp on a C chord" instead of having to explain exactly what that means -- as long as the other person knows it as well. Ditto for saying "cut time" instead of saying that "there will be two half notes in each measure" and then also having to explain what a half note is.

This isn't much different than other professions that have their own oddball terms and abbreviations -- such as a lathe operator being told to "sand their work 'proud' of the bushings," a comedian or a singer who "works in one," or a doctor who yells "Code Blue," and so on. If that's the case, it's probably a fool's errand trying to figure out exactly where the terms came from, and in the end, I guess the source isn't all that important -- although it's fun to ask! SETH

Edited by - sethb on 04/17/2024 12:39:36

Apr 17, 2024 - 12:45:45 PM

5199 posts since 4/7/2008

I always thought that “vamp” is term that refers to a repeating rhythm pattern (like the guitar figure in both the intro. & the verse to David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel”).

Apr 17, 2024 - 12:52:22 PM

3341 posts since 3/30/2008

This thread is a good example of why this site is called the Banjo Hangout & not the Semiotics Hangout.

Apr 17, 2024 - 1:21:09 PM

31 posts since 6/22/2016

quote:
Originally posted by sethb


"After reading all the interesting replies, it seems to me that the words "gig" and "vamp," as well as other musical terms such as "cut time," "common time" and "stop-time," are actually just shortcuts or abbreviations."

The origins of "cut time" have to do with the meaning of the already abbreviated time signature symbols.  In historical music, a circle "O" indicated perfect time, which was some form of triple time.  The "C" symbol does not stand for "common time" as many believe, but rather symbolizes an imperfect circle that indicates imperfect time, or 4 beats to the measure instead of the usual three.  The "C" with a slash through indicates imperfect time with shorter note values, tempus imperfectum diminutum.

The term "gig" does indeed come from the slang for a horse-drawn cart, or means of conveyance, as mentioned by the Hot Club Man.  Not many understand the term "car" is an abbreviation of carriage.  I live in the past.

Apr 17, 2024 - 1:36:22 PM

361 posts since 6/20/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Mike, it is pretty obvious that I failed out of English class, but is it possible that you are confusing slang for jargon?


Jargon is more usually speech that is characterised by a heavy use of specialist terminology e.g computer jargon.  Another example of popular jargon might take us back to the late 1970's among then hi-fi enthusiasts who could hold entire conversations about their 'woofers' and 'tweeters' and other gizmos.

Apr 18, 2024 - 2:06:59 AM

361 posts since 6/20/2020

The terms 'gig' and 'vamp' have become common usage to us. Quite likely that in the original context that 'gig' was used the meaning and derivation were obtuse to 'outsiders'. I wonder if the term derives from an African-American source? Sadly we'll probably never know.

Within language it's also common that a previous usage is adapted and the phonetic altered:

oxfordreference.com/display/10...095851945

Edited by - Pomeroy on 04/18/2024 02:10:28

Apr 18, 2024 - 5:05:36 PM

Meestro

Canada

129 posts since 5/3/2016

Gig is the universal term that is used by all matter of performances such as symphony concerts, musicals, recording sessions, etc. It used to be used mostly by professional musicians but everyone uses it now, and certainly not limited to music as many people earn their living as part of the gig economy.

As for Vamp, it is used in many places in music, not just at the beginning or for an intro. I see it a lot when playing in put orchestras for musicals, often in dance numbers too. It is a great way to keep the energy going in a song or dance number but under dialogue that furthers the libretto which we commonly refer to as the plot or story. It allows one to build time into a stage presentation. That’s all for now. “I’ve got to go see a man about a horse!” What is the origin of this sentence?

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