A recent online chat with a graphic designer 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.
One 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
What we call this type of footwear largely depends on where we live. The most common regional variations are:
London & Home Counties – Plimsolls / Pumps
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 they’re only really called that these days in and around London.
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?