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Where does the phrase "what to do when you live in a shoe" come from?

I was asked today why I use slow internet and responded, "What to do when you live in a shoe" as though my internet limitation(s) is not a choice but just the way it is because of my rural location.

I don't know why this is such a popular saying and I find having a history lesson on this figure of speech will help me use it better or more appropriately. Search engines haven't told me much about it's origins; only where it is being used.

I say appropriately because the person was taken aback and felt a little offended like I was giving a half-truth or trying to avoid conversation all-together. I still think it was funny because it rhymes.

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There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. These days I think my advice would be to use contraception. Then she wouldn't have so many children she didn't know what to do! –  FumbleFingers Oct 24 '11 at 17:04
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Note that what to do when you live in a shoe isn't exactly a "popular saying". Google finds a grand total of 31 instances of this quotated text on the whole of the Internet, at least half of which are simply duplicated references to the same original instance. The actual popular expression is living in a shoebox, meaning "in a small appartment". –  FumbleFingers Oct 24 '11 at 17:10
    
If I understand you aright in the context where you said this in response to someone asking why you don't have fast broadband, I think you've misunderstood the meaning of live in a shoe[box]. There may be some implication that you're poor, if all you can afford is small living accomodation. But it's stretching things too far to link this to living in a rural location. I accept that on average rural dwellers are poorer, but the reason they don't have such fast internet is down to logistics, not economics. –  FumbleFingers Oct 24 '11 at 18:08
    
@fumble Would you mind posting as an answer? These are good points and have helped me a bit. From where I am from (rural...) this phrase is popular. –  SaultDon Oct 24 '11 at 18:20

2 Answers 2

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What to do when you live in a shoe isn't really a "popular saying" across the world at large. Google finds only 31 instances of this quotated text on the whole of the Internet, at least half of which are simply duplicated references to the same original instances.

A related but far more common expression is living in a shoebox, meaning "in a small appartment". This probably owes much to the nursery rhyme There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe who had so many children, she didn't know what to do.

OP's (possibly quite localised) idiomatic usage seems to convey a sense of making the best of limited resources. I'm assuming when he gives this reply to someone asking why he doesn't have fast broadband, it's because he lives in a rural location where fast connections are unobtainable or prohibitively expensive.

My own guess is that OP's meaning has arisen circuitously from the original nursery rhyme context. Apart from lacking access to modern contraceptives, the old woman was probably poor, since people living in rural locations are on average poorer than those in the city.

When it comes to broadband, the economics become even more relevant. Even if you live in a tiny apartment in a city, you can probably get cheap broadband because the cost of wiring up the whole building become insignificant when shared between all the people living there. When you live in a farmhouse miles from anywhere, the cost of getting connected by cable can be astronomical.

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I've heard the phrase as "what can you do when you live in a shoe?" myself. Perhaps you'll find more hits there? I learned it in rural Ontario and it has the meaning you indicate, accepting what you have to accept. Rhyming is definitely part of the idiom. In my youth, people would indicate they agreed with your sentiment by replying "and you can't dance." Perhaps this was the first line or two of a poem or song?

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Looks like it may be a Canada thing then. Thanks for sharing. –  SaultDon Oct 31 '11 at 20:19

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 8 '12 at 18:24

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