Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I’m afraid this question might turn out to be stupid, but I’ll give it a try. I’d like to know if it’s a set phrase and its meaning.

”My mother didn’t have a heart, Kreacher,” Sirius snapped. “She kept herself alive out of pure spite.”

Kreacher bowed again and said, “Whatever Master says,” then muttered furiously, “Master is not fit to wipe slime from his mother’s boots, oh my poor Mistress, what would she say if she saw Kreacher serving him, how she hated him, what a disappointment he was – “ (Harry Potter 5 [US Version]: p.109)[Bold font is mine]

N.B.: Kreacher hates Sirius, his Master. He respects his late Mistress, Sirius’s mother.

I’m wondering if it might be related to wipe one’s boots on (to treat with indignity), but I have no idea. Kreacher is a little crazy, indeed, but I still can’t understand why Kreacher brought up slime and boots here. Slime might have figurative meaning of dishonorable things, but why boots?

Would you give me the right meaning and tell me if it’s a set phrase?

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think this is not a set phrase, but simply an example of a very "lowly" work: Wiping slime from dirty boots is work that in a very hierarchical society would surely be done by some of the lowest workers. It's not the task done by skilled worker or even someone who's respected.

share|improve this answer
2  
Exactly. Something like "you're too good for him; he's not good enough to shine your shoes" might be a little more common. This idea occurs as far back as the Christian bible. –  aedia λ Aug 26 '11 at 6:05
1  
Contrasts with Mary Magdalene washing Jesus' feet, which I don't think is generally considered to be a reflection of her lowly status (any more than women in general at that time and in that culture). –  FumbleFingers Aug 26 '11 at 6:33
1  
And with this usage, Kreacher means to say that Sirius's mother hated Sirius and was so disappointed by him that she would not even consider him equal to a lowly worker. –  JoseK Aug 26 '11 at 6:36

It's not a set phrase. A set phrase is one that would have been commonly used by people in everyday lives, or at least, in writing and literature. However, this is clearly not happening. This is more of a coinage by an author, about how someone particularly expresses his low opinion of another.

The expression "not fit to lick his boots" is a set phrase.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.