Language of Shoes

neil neil at TYPOG.CO.UK
Tue Aug 9 22:00:38 UTC 2005

on 9/8/05 9:31 pm, Michael McKernan at mckernan at LOCALNET.COM wrote:

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> Poster:       Michael McKernan <mckernan at LOCALNET.COM>
> Subject:      Language of Shoes
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> Larry Horn wrote;
>> (although I have no idea what they are--I somehow never learned how
>> to decode communication from footware), but not "come fuck-me", but I
>> take it that's what's involved here, unless I have the C wrong.  (As
>> I say, shoes don't talk to me.)
> You're not alone in being linguistically bare-foot, Larry.  I've been
> trying to learn from my students.  When I taught at Boston University,
> where shoe-talk is a big deal, I did pick up a few pointers, but still feel
> so far from fluent that I can barely attempt a conversation.
> One of my students said to me:  'First, I look at the shoes!'  Her fellow
> students readily agreed:  many of them got their very first
> impressions/messages from a stranger's shoes.  Perhaps the most simple
> decision I made, each day, was which shoes to wear:  my black leather
> 'sneakers', unless the weather was too wet or snowy, when I'd switch to my
> snow-boots.  I did have a third choice of black oxfords, but never wore
> them except to rare, particularly formal events.  Day-to-day, I was
> thoughtlessly communicating a message I still don't quite understand, to at
> least a significant fraction of everyone I met.
> Many of my students (particularly women, but including many of the men)
> were able to state an understanding of the message conveyed by any
> particular shoe (but best, in the context of a wearer and a social
> situation).  The degree to which my students agreed on these messages was
> pretty convincing, in terms of the idea that there was a language of shoes
> which was shared by that group.
> I suppose that this language would be very difficult to pin down, since
> shoes change so rapidly.
> In trying to understand how the rapid changes spread among my students, the
> most coherent (to me, anyway) answers I got were that fashion magazine (and
> general) advertising spread the latest messages (non-verbally, for the most
> part, but perhaps with some hints encoded in the advertising copy).  If
> this is true, then of course I wonder how the shoe designers and marketers
> gain their power and make their decisions...there must be some kind of
> dialog between designers and customers, no?  Some shoes are probably
> rejected by consumers, for instance.
> I suppose that it's just as well that I have other fish to fry, and haven't
> really put much effort into delving further into this.  If anyone else has,
> especially from a linguistic  perspective, I'd like to hear about it.  I
> assume that there are plenty of feminist and other political, perhaps
> post-modernist studies of shoe culture (I've seen a few).  But my students
> have convinced me that this is not just a feminist (or female) matter:  men
> are also participants, witting or unwitting, in  'language of shoes'
> discourse , though the dialect may be quite distinct in some ways (and
> pretty much the same in others).  Spill-over from non-verbal shoe language,
> to English (or other) shoe-slang, might be one place to start a study.  I'd
> much appreciate a further discussion of shoe slang--and more mainstream
> terminology as well.  Seems to me I've heard some male shoe-slang that has
> 'gay' origins, for instance, but I can't seem to remember it.
> Michael McKernan

>From Maledicta13 (Volume XIII, 1997 - 2004, 28):

I don't think those shoes go with that outfit = I'm gay.'

--Neil Crawford (who has not only contributed to Maledicta, but who also
exhorts you to subscribe!)

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