language and words in the news Love English

How do you like your stake?

2012 is turning out to be quite a year for anniversaries, with those of the birth of Charles Dickens and the sinking of the Titanic already past, and Robert Browning and Alan Turing still to come. Today is the centenary of the death of the Irish writer Bram Stoker, author of one of the most successful horror stories ever published: the tale of a bloodsucking Transylvanian Count who travels to England in order to give free rein to his lust for human blood and finally gets his comeuppance back at his ancestral castle, though oddly enough with a knife rather than a sharpened stake though his heart.

The horror genre is not really my cup of – well, tea, or some other liquid: I failed even to reach the end of Dracula; and I’m far too much of a wimp to enjoy horror films, whether they feature vampires or other undead or supernatural beings. So I’m really the last person who is qualified to comment on Stoker’s novel or its astonishing afterlife in popular culture. What I do find interesting is how vampire-related terms have entered the mainstream, coming to be used figuratively in everyday language. Some vampire-related words have come in and out of favour: when’s the last time you saw a seductive woman referred to as a vamp, for instance? But other uses are still, if you’ll forgive the pun, very much alive.

Suppose you want to find a colourful way of referring to someone or something that feeds parasitically off others. Well, whether the object of your wrath is animate or inanimate, you can call them a vampire:

[Personal injury lawyers] are not, it seems, … vampires sucking the blood from the helpless.

The power of increase of capital is the death of labor: the vampire that sucks its blood.

The typical American home has 20 electrical appliances that bleed consumers of money. That’s because the appliances continue to suck electricity even when they’re off … studies estimate that these so-called “vampire” appliances cost consumers $3 billion a year.

Vampires, and the unfortunate animals named after them, don’t generally get a good press. It’s hard to imagine anyone being pleased to be referred to as a vampire, or to having their actions referred to as vampiric.  However cushioned they are by their inordinate wealth, the millionaire bankers of Goldman Sachs can’t have been thrilled when Rolling Stone magazine famously referred to them as ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money’.

An alternative – and no more flattering – term that sticks with the same idea is to call someone a bloodsucker:

Stewart’s play is still illuminating, presenting a picture of an actress desperate for love and affection, but surrounded by a blood-sucking mob of controlling self-seekers.

They are the prey of a “bloated, vicious, blood-sucking aristocracy,” unjust taxation, unfair laws, and a host of other national and personal wrongs.

Of course if you want to put an end to the activities of this loathsome parasite, what better method to adopt than the time-honoured one of driving a stake through its evil heart?

By slowing consumer spending, or even making it downright painful, the central bank intends to drive a stake through the heart of inflation.

If you want to know more about voice mail, press 1. If you want to drive a stake through the heart of an “automated attendant,” press 2. And get in line.

You can even combine the two ideas to hammer home your point:

If this isn’t the final stake through the heart of this vampire proposal I cannot imagine what will be.

And the title of this post? It’s the punchline of a joke I can’t remember, which turns on the homonymy of the words stake and steak. And I suppose a rare steak is the closest most of us ever get to Count Dracula’s perverse dining habits.

Email this Post Email this Post

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter


  • Nice one Liz. It occurs to me that in 2012, the verb ‘bleed’ , occurring in your first clutch of citations, lies somewhere nicely at the intersection of the exploits of bankers and vampires. As MED’s sense markers neatly indicate, it means both ‘take blood from someone’ and ‘make someone pay money’ …

  • thanks Kerry: I hadn’t made that connection and I see now that there is some evidence for vampire banks. Of course there’s also the whole zombie banker/bank thing in the same ‘undead parasite’ area, but I didn’t have room this time. Maybe another post.

  • I was amused by the expression Dracula sneeze, “covering one’s mouth with the crook of one’s elbow when sneezing, seen as similar to popular portrayals of the vampire Dracula, in which he hides the lower half of his face with a cape” (as defined by the American Dialect Society, which voted it Most Creative Word of the Year for 2009), and quite surprised by the names used to popularize Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy, a new cosmetic surgery procedure – Vampire FaceLift® and Dracula Therapy!

Leave a Comment