Q&A: Shoe-in or shoo-in?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re into our shoos…

Q: Hi AWC, I went for a job recently and my friend told me I’d be a “shoe-in” for the position. Is this correct? I’ve always thought it was “shoo-in”.

A: That’s right – the phrase is indeed “shoo-in”. Your friend is wrong.

Q: Okay great. But why IS it “shoo”? That’s usually something I say to get something AWAY, not to bring it closer.

A: Yeah, that’s true, but you should know by now that phrases like this often bear no definition resemblance to the sum of their parts.

Q: Maybe “shoo” simply means to encourage here or away?

A: Nope. It pretty much just means “get as far away from me as possible”…

Q: I guess I can see why my friend got confused then.

A: Yes, it often happens that the wrong option appears to make more sense. These are called “eggcorns” – mistaken words or phrases that kind of make sense.

Q: Examples?

A: Calling it “Old Timer’s Disease” instead of “Alzheimer’s Disease”. Or “for all intensive purposes” instead of the actual “for all intents and purposes”.

Q: And let’s not forget “in tents with porpoises”. Worst camping trip ever.

A: Um, sure… okay.

Q: So what’s the deal with “shoo-in” then?

A: The verb phrase “shoo in” was around for 20 years before it took hold in shady horse racing dealings around 1928, where it became the term for “a horse that wins a race by pre-arrangement”. By 1939, its meaning had extended to politics, where it was now simply the expected or easy winner – shady or otherwise.

Q: And that definition continues to this day?

A: It sure does.

Q: Wow, open and shut case this week. It looks like the “shoo” is on the other foot!

A: Oh, what job are you a “shoo-in” for anyway?

Q: Oh, I’ll be working at a cobbler’s workshop.

A: Well, no wonder your friend said you’d be a “shoe-in” – they were probably just trying to be clever!

Q: What’s clever about that? It has nothing to do with cobblers – my favourite peach dessert…

A: Oh dear.

Q: …although, come to think of it, they might let me work with pastry and I simply love “shoe pastry”.

A: It’s spelt “choux” – French for “cabbage”, as that’s the round shape of the buns traditionally made using this pastry.

Q: Well, if the choux fits… Now SHOO, I have an interview to prepare for. Where’s my apron…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!


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