In many countries, there are people in the streets who do shoe polishing on the go. photo of man in the streets polishing shoes

Please refer to the attached image.

What is the word for such a person?

  • 4
    Traditionally, a bootblack. More contemporarily, a shoeshiner, or more colloquially, the shoe-shine guy.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 16:02
  • What does your own native language to English dictionary say? You don't have such a word in your native language?
    – user140086
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 16:21
  • In my native language they call the person who does that a "shoe painter", that is a literal translation.. Because he/she uses colors i.e black, brown etc, depending on shoe color.. So, i guess it wouldn't make sense in English..
    – user186499
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 16:35
  • If you want the word used in British English you might want to add that to your question. Bootblack is not used in American English, or at least in some parts of the USA. Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 22:02

2 Answers 2


Historically, in British English, a bootblack. But Chambers (iPhone edition), which I quote below, also has shoeblack, which I have never encountered myself.

boot'black noun
1. A person whose job is to clean and polish shoes
2. A shoeblack

The 1993 paper edition of Chambers does not include shoeshiner (the iPhone edition lists it without definition). I suspect it is US usage, although I wonder whether this is a ‘politically correct’* version of shoeshine boy, which I am aware of from the old song of that name.

*‘Politically correct’ because of the derogatory and perhaps racial implications of using ‘boy’ to refer to an adult.

  • 2
    Shoeshiner: Shoeshiner or boot polisher is an occupation in which a person polishes shoes with shoe polish. They are often known as shoeshine boys because the job is traditionally that of a male child. Other synonyms are (mainly in American English) bootblack and shoeblack. encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/shoeshiner
    – user66974
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 18:30
  • 1
    Your reference to political correctness seems tenuous, the real reason is that children are no longer legally allowed to work at young ages and that the level of poverty has fallen so much so that people don't want to do this job and could do far better. Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 18:49
  • @BladorthinTheGrey — You may well be correct. I was only wondering. I tend to suspect internet dictionaries and encyclopaedias (ae?) of self-censorship.
    – David
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 19:22
  • 1
    @Josh61 - Do understand that, up until maybe 1960, it was quite common and "proper" in parts of the US to refer to a grown black male as "boy", and, on many downtown streets in the US, one could find such a "boy" operating a shoe-shine "stand".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 19:50
  • @HotLicks Well I bow to that knowledge, I was not aware of such connotations, Britain has thankfully been far more liberal than America for a good few centuries. Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 21:09

Bootblack is the most popular term for this occupation.

Google Ngrams

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  • Interesting. Not really relevant to the question, but I wonder at the recent increase in usage. I didn't think the Western economy was in that bad shape. I don't live in London or New York, so I'm not aware whether there are more professionals of that sort in employment today. (Must learn to do that ngram thing myself.)
    – David
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 19:26
  • 1
    @Davis ~ well personally I've never even encountered a shoe shiner so I never was even aware of the different terms for one. I thought that was more a thing you'd see in old movies.
    – user180089
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 19:34
  • Here's an alternate Ngram that shows shoeshiner (and its variants) running neck-and-neck with bootblack, which is more along the lines of what I expected to see.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 21:38
  • @J.R. ~ if you include results up to 2008 bootblack experiences a dramatic rise, for whatever reason
    – user180089
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 21:41
  • 1
    I've read on ELU before that Ngrams frequently spike on the last year of the Ngram, particularly after 2005 (five years ago, it was after the year 2000). Reportedly, those spikes are from inaccuracies in the data, not an actual rise in usage. Alternatively, sometimes a spike might occur if something becomes a cultural reference, like because of a famous movie line, e.g.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 10:07

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