5

I'm not entirely sure if the idiom should be "bubble gum and shoe strings" or "bubble gum and matchsticks"; however from the context it looks like it refers to a cheaply done repair job, which may be related to "a shoe string budget".

5
  • Rubber bands and baling wire were the items I’ve heard used as temporary repair materials. – Xanne May 16 '20 at 8:48
  • @Xanne - Chewing gum and bailing wire. And let's not forget the handyman's secret weapon -- duct tape! – Hot Licks May 16 '20 at 15:42
  • youtu.be/y5yFWiJK670 – Hot Licks May 16 '20 at 15:44
  • @Hotlocks That guy is really funny--his accent seems oddly familiar to me. Maybe I've seen his show now and then. I think I got along with scotch tape in my early repairs. – Xanne May 16 '20 at 21:32
  • Baling wire (for hay bales). I don't know what bailing wire would be. – Anton Sherwood May 17 '20 at 23:28
4

There are different versions such as “string and chewing-gum ” or “bubblegum and shoelaces”. The origin is probably just from common sense knowledge of two items that suggest a precarious and unreliable solution.

There’s an old saying about something being held together by just string (or shoestrings) and chewing gum. The idea, of course, is it is not a reliable (or solid) state of affairs. As things go, yours truly often has the notion that life is being held together with string and chewing gum.

(carpathianpeasant.wordpress.com)

An early usage example is from 1924 as suggested by user Gregor Y:

Fom The Northeastern Reporter, Volume 140

In this precinct, for want of a wire on which to string the ballots, they stacked them in piles after they were counted, and tied them, thus piled, with strings two ways and sealed the strings with chewing gum where the knots crossed, and then put ...

From The Address of Mr. Hachiro Arita, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the 70th Session of the Imperial Diet, January 21, 1937

Some people suspect that the American economic system has been put together with string and chewing gum and that its greatest characteristic is its lack of system .

3
  • huh, how about here: books.google.com/… – Gregor y May 16 '20 at 6:39
  • @Gregory- can’t see anything relevant in your link, sorry – user 66974 May 16 '20 at 6:51
  • 1
    I'm not too sure how well the book link works, but it's an article from 1923 about not having envelops to seal ballots so they "for want of a wire on which to string the ballots, they stacked them in piles after they were counted, and tied them, thus piled, with strings two ways and sealed the strings with chewing gum where the knots crossed," this was the earliest usage that I could find which matched the "held together by string and chewing gum" depiction – Gregor y May 16 '20 at 6:58
0

I’ve always heard it to be ‘shoe strings and sealing wax.’ It probably changes through time as different items become more common. Who used sealing wax anymore. On an aside I’ve always wondered if that was what Louis carrol was referring to when he mentions shoes and sealing wax in the walrus and the carpenter.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.