Daps, pumps or plimsolls… what do YOU call your canvas shoes?

A recent Twitter chat with a graphic designer down in Bristol (near my home town of Bath) reminded me of the different names we use for everyday objects. In this case it was footwear. Or, to be precise, canvas shoes.

A dap by any other name

He’d posted a photo of some rather snazzy canvas lace-ups, which he referred to as daps.

As someone who grew up in his neck of the woods, his choice of wording made me feel rather nostalgic for my infant school years.

Plimsolls: one of the many names for canvas shoesOne of my fond memories from that era is the infamous ‘dap bag’ – a drawstring canvas bag used to transport our black elasticated shoes into school for PE lessons.

Fast forward XX number of years and I no longer wear this particular type of shoe (even to the gym). But I do wear other variants of rubber-soled canvas shoes, which these days I call pumps.

This is probably because I’ve settled ‘up North’. Well, to Southerners the Midlands qualifies as the North, seeing as it’s past the Watford Gap!

During our chat I then discovered that he had moved ‘down South’ from Lancashire, where he’d grown up calling them pumps. So he’d switched from pumps to daps, which was the exact opposite to me.

This kicked my nerdy brain into overdrive and made me want to find out more. Were we representative of our regions? Or did we just like to be different?

Uncovering a nautical connection

A quick search online took me to the good old Wikipedia page, on which I discovered that:

  • The original shoe with canvas upper and rubber sole was developed as beachwear in the 1830s by the Liverpool Rubber Company
  • The shoe was originally, and still is in parts of the UK, called a sand shoe
  • It acquired the nickname plimsoll in the 1870s; this is believed to be because the coloured horizontal band joining the upper to the sole resembled the Plimsoll line on a ship’s hull (or because, like the Plimsoll line, if water got above the line of the rubber sole, the wearer would get wet)
  • Plimsolls were issued to the British military (commonly known as road slappers) until they were replaced by trainers in the mid-80s

Regional names for canvas shoes

Converses: one of the main brand of canvas shoesWhat we call this type of footwear largely depends on where we live. The most common regional variations are:

London, Home Counties, West Midlands, Yorkshire & North West – Pumps

West Country & Wales – Daps / Dappers

Northern Ireland & Central Scotland – Gutties

Scotland – Sannies (from sand shoes)

So it would appear that plimsolls are the original word, but hardly anyone calls them that these days.

And my limited research corroborates that both of us have stayed true to our regional preferences – subconsciously changing our choice of word, most likely to fit in with our peers.

And the list goes on…

Outside the UK, the names for canvas shoes are even more widespread:

Australia – Sand shoes / Canvas shoes

Canada – Running shoes / Runners

Gibraltar – Kung-Fu shoes

India – Canvas shoes / Keds (brand name)

Ireland – Penneys shoes / Rubber dollies

United States – Sneakers / Tennis shoes / Chucks (from the ubiquitous Converse Chuck Talyor All-Star brand)

Over to you

So, I’m intrigued… what do you call your canvas shoes? Is that the same as when you were growing up? Or have you also made the switch as you’ve moved regions?

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70 comments on “Daps, pumps or plimsolls… what do YOU call your canvas shoes?
  1. Guy Bristow says:

    I grew up in Bristol and they are definitely daps. Teacher used to say “Now children, it’s Wednesday tomorrow, so don’t forget your daps”.

  2. Tom Wilson says:

    In the 1960s Scottish Borders we knew them as Sand Shoes or Gym Shoes also remember having heard Plimsolls, out of school summer time we wore canvas Baseball boots known as Basers.

  3. Eddie says:

    I found this after a similar Twitter discussion. I’m from the East Midlands and my wife’s from the North West. I always called them plimsolls, she’d very clear that they’re pumps. Whatever they’re called, my primary school insisted we always had a black pull on pair; but they were equally insistent we never wore them!

    • Geraldine says:

      Ha, yes, I can imagine that many couples will have different names for them! Unlike you though, I did regularly have to wear my “daps” for PE lessons… not the easiest things to pull on/off, even with the elastic insert 🙂

  4. TA Gilbert says:

    Never heard of daps; came across the word in Alan Hollinghurst’s’The Folding Star’, p220. Had looked it up in the OED online, and arrived here via a Google image search. Fascinating blog – but I think we just said ‘plimsolls’ in 1970s north Essex.

    • Geraldine says:

      I love the fact that your online search after first seeing the word in a novel led you to my little blog post! I’m guessing the book was set in the South West then?

  5. Des Henke says:

    I’m from Birmingham and had always called them pumps. My ex-wife had no idea when I said we need to get our son some pumps…she is from Northamptonshire. I had no idea at that time that they had any other name than pumps.

  6. Caroline says:

    I can’t believe this wonderful blog i have just read. Thank you. I have ejoyed every minute of it. I was brought up in Triwbridge Wilts. And i am 56 and had forgotten aboyt daps and my dapbag! This has reminded me that our pe teacher thought us to run from starboard to… The other side which i cant remember right now…

    • Geraldine says:

      Thank you so much for your kind comment, Caroline! It’s always really rewarding to hear when others not only stumble across but also enjoy one of my posts 🙂

      It sounds as though we grew up in the same neck of the woods around the same time, so it’s not surprising that we used the same vocabulary. I still feel quite nostalgic about my old dap bag & its associations with primary school… happy days!

    • Christine Stewart says:

      I grew up in south east London and they were always plimsoles at primary school, but at secondary school, for some reason, they had morphed into gym shoes. Love all the other names they were called.

      • Geraldine says:

        Interesting to hear how they changed name as you moved up schools, even in the same area! Pleased you enjoyed learning about all the other names 🙂

  7. Jonathan says:

    I grew up in Newcastle and as far as I remember we called them sandshoes or plimsoles – plimmies for short – at school.
    Outside school I spent my time in ‘basketball boots’, which is what Woolworths called their cheap Converse knock-offs, and these were also called bumpers – Phil [above] doesn’t say where he’s from but I suspect this is another regional dialect form.
    Now I live in the far southeast and my kids laugh at me for using any of these words.

    • Geraldine says:

      Thanks for joining in the convo! Plimmies & bumpers seem to feature quite a bit in other comments too – both of which were new to me. I’d be interested to know what your kids call them instead…

  8. Ian David Roberts says:

    I still call my trainers or running shoes daps.In my school days in the 1960’s the daps were kept in as very dusty wire cage.All mixed together you took pot luck with getting a pair in your size. The daps were always left in the school in this wire cage with shelves ,anyone else remember the wire cages for the mish mash of a load of old daps?

  9. Alan says:

    I was at high school in about 1960 at West Ham. Our lady English teacher was from Yorkshire. In one of her lessons someone threw a plimsoll across the room and she called out “Who threw that pump!”
    Well the class exploded “What’s a pump” we had never heard that word used for a plimsoll before, we were flabbergasted
    She went on to explain that was what a plimsoll was called up north. Amid this uproar the culprit was forgotten
    Somehow I can dimly recall a plimsoll being called a slipper it to longaho

  10. Tim McCullen says:

    Coming late to this discussion…! Growing up in deepest darkest Hampshire (well, Southampton) in the 70s, I knew them as plimsolls or “plimmies”. I heard them referred to as “pumps”, but that was usually on TV, not in the school playground. 😉

    • Late’s fine – it’s good to know that people are still finding the post!

      I’ve not heard of “plimmies” before as an alternative for “plimsolls”.

      Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  11. Graham Smith says:

    The name came from a south Wales company that made them.
    “Dunlop all purpose ”
    They made them for the army

    • Sorry, only just seen this because of the Easter break etc. Well, I didn’t know that! And it didn’t come up in my research. Would that have any connection to Dunlop tyres, I wonder?

  12. Rob Leach says:

    Back in Surrey in the 1950s and 60s we called them Gym Shoes.

  13. JaneC says:

    I had to google “daps” when I heard David Tennant use the term on Dr. Who (I’m watching old Tenth Doctor episodes). Obviously I knew he meant his shoes but I’d never heard the term, being in the States. I guess they’re still called sneakers or Converse here, but you’d have to ask the kids — if anyone even wears canvas these days.

    • It’s definitely a British English word & specific to certain parts of the UK (I didn’t realise the Doctor hailed from the South West where I grew up!). There again, we wouldn’t use “sneakers” over here but would know what was meant from watching U.S. TV series/films. The joy of the English language 🙂

  14. Andy Bryant says:

    They are commonly called slippers in Malta, though at my school this was frowned upon and we were told to call them plimsolls.

  15. Pietie says:

    In South Africa we called the sneakers : tekkies (probably Afrikaans for tackies.

  16. Liz Heffner says:

    I grew up in Bristol and always called them daps, but that only applied to the all black, unlaced slip-on shoe worn for gym class. Once they had laces, they became trainers…even if they were still made of canvas.

    • Similar experience to me then, which isn’t surprising as we grew up in the same corner of the country. I don’t really recall canvas lace-up shoes being around then though, so for me the only options were the black daps for P.E. or sporty-type trainers. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  17. I was in junior school in thr 40s and senior school early 50s and we always called them plimsoles and daps for short !! We knew they were named after the ply sole line !!

    • Funny to hear that ‘daps’ was short for ‘plimsolls’ as there’s no obvious connection between the words! But you were clearly better informed than me if you knew about the Plimsoll line while at school.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment 🙂

  18. Will says:

    I’m from st.helens, in the 80’s/early 90’s we calles them ‘gloshers’ (spelling may be wrong).

    • That’s a new one to me! I wonder if there’s any connection to galoshes (large waterproof shoes, usually made of rubber, for wearing over ordinary shoes esp. during snowy weather)?

  19. Sylvia Suddes says:

    Hi Geraldine.
    You’re very good at blogging! Wish I had your tenacity.
    I call them sannies, but I’m not from Scotland; I’m from Co. Durham. I’m not sure if people from Tyne & Wear and Northumberland say sannies.
    Also, ours were always white!

    • Thanks for your kind words Sylvia, but I’ve really slipped on the blogging front this past year or so (started out 4 years ago as weekly, now it’s once every 1-2 months!).

      White ‘sannies’ don’t sound very practical for school P.E. lessons 😉

  20. Thanks for This Information.

  21. Penny Mason says:

    Yes l also grew up in Bath and very much remember the dap and dap bag, but my partner who is from London laughed his head off at my colloquial expression, as he had not heard the word used before. Plimsol was his term for the little black cancas shoe.We now also live in the West Midlands. Took me back years reading your post. Happy Days.
    Penny Mason

  22. Liz Fresson says:

    Daps when i was at primary school in wiltshire – they were the black elasticated shoes.

  23. Sarah Dietz says:

    I moved to Bristol as a young adult and started a family. When my children began at school I was very confused by “daps”. I had never heard the word. They were always plimsolls where I grew up (Hampshire) and I had no idea they could be called anything else. This is fascinating.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it Sarah. I’ve happy memories of the good old “dap bag”, whereas my two children who grew up in the Midlands call them pumps. Funny old world, isn’t it?!

  24. Craig says:

    Sannies or Sand shoes in Hull.
    We moved to Lincolnshire in 1978. My teacher, for weeks, asked me “Don’t you have any plimsolls?”. As it was a word I had never heard before, I did what any 6 year old would, and looked non-plussed. When I eventually took in my sand shoes, she said “So you do have plimsolls!”, and I joined the dots.

    • What a great story – thank you for taking the time to share it! It goes to show how often we take words for granted, simply assuming that everyone else understands what we’re talking about 🙂

  25. Boozoo says:

    In the northwestern US we called them either tennies (short for tennis shoes) or Chucks (shortened from Chuck Taylor, the basketball player the canvas/rubber shoes were named for) but it depended on the actual shoe style. Other types of rubber soled athletic shoes had many, many names! Before the late 1960’s we wore hard leather dress shoes most of the time, this definitely changed in the 1970’s.

    • Many thanks for your interesting comments & insight into US terminology for footwear. It’s hard to imagine having to wear hard leather shoes for casual use these days!

  26. paul davies says:

    Daps don’t have laces!

    • I’m inclined to agree as for me they were only ever the black elasticated shoes worn for P.E., but evidently in other parts of the country they do. Whereabouts do you live, out of interest?

      • Bit late to the party here, but in South East London, and I think it’s really localised to certain parts, we called them Stanford’s.

        • Geraldine says:

          It’s often the best time to arrive!! I’ve never heard of Stanfords before, but if it’s very localised, as you say, it’s not surprising. Any idea where that name comes from?

          • Lockwoodhorne says:

            Absolutely no idea! Seems to be only a few schools in South London, (New Cross, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe) I’ve tried googling it to no avail.

  27. Katharine R says:

    Pumps or plimsolls in Cambridge

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