Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil

By Peter Day | Go to book overview

The Name of the Vampire:
Some Reflections on Current Linguistic Theories
on the Etymology of the Word Vampire

Peter Mario Kreuter

One of the most annoying matters of the research into Southeast European Vampire belief is the fact that we do not know the etymology of the word. All older theories of an ostensible Slavonic, Hungarian or maybe autochtonous origin of this word have become obsolete.1

Besides that, the actually most convincing proposal from Ute Dukova suffers from the highly theoretical basis of its ideas.2 By comparison of all forms of the word in modern Slavonic languages, Dukova reconstructs the original Slavonic form *ąpir' or *ąpyr' or *upir'. There are two possible branches of etymology, an inner Slavonic development and an act of borrowing the word from a Turkic language. Dukova rejects the idea of an inner slavonic development by arguing against the possible ways of borrowing and all proposed explanations for the nasal vowel until now. Instead, she pleads for the second possibility.4 Here she prefers the loaning of a Turkic word and denies any direct loaning from Ottomanic or modern time Turkish language. Dukova's own favourite is the Chuvash word văpăr with the meaning “bad ghost of a witch, appearing in different forms.”5 Here is not the place to explain all details of Dukova's theory. We just have to notice that her proposition is nowadays the accepted etymology and has not found a concise refutation until now.

Having finished and published my own doctoral thesis, I found reactions on this study came shortly after its release. One of these reactions was the letter of Hanswilhelm Haefs, a German author who became quite famous in Germany by publishing several books of so-called “useless knowledge.” In his books, Haefs presents a sort of kaleidoscopic collections of mostly interesting facts and astonishing theories on a large scale of thematic fields. Together with his letter, Haefs sent a copy of his newest book to me. It's title is “New useless knowledge for the waistcoat pocket, including the history of the vampire Count Dracula.”6 The author of the book proposed me to read the final chapter of it because of the presentation of a complete new theory of the origin of the word “vampire.”

I read it and was fascinated. Not because of the theory itself which I found ridiculous but of the general character of the chapter. It was nothing more than the well-known quarry of parts of the literary vampire figure, some elements of anthropological or ethnographic basic knowledge, and the attitude of knowing the South-Eastern part of Europe

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