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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16 comments on “Daps, pumps or plimsolls… what do YOU call your canvas shoes?
  1. Thanks for This Information.

  2. 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

  3. Liz Fresson says:

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

  4. 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?!

  5. 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 🙂

  6. 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!

  7. 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?

  8. Katharine R says:

    Pumps or plimsolls in Cambridge

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