A news article reported that Presidential candidate Joe Biden said he was “labor from belt buckle to shoe sole.”

I’ve never heard this phrase before. Does anyone know the origin? It seems to imply “from the waist down”; but “from head to toe” is more likely what Biden would want to say in this situation.

  • 1
    It reads like an idiosyncratic expression. It'd be like me writing, "He's blue from his shirt collar to his socks." It's easy to riff on a general idea (he's labor all over) and come up with sentences that seem like expressions but aren't. Sep 11, 2020 at 17:25
  • A search of the internet shows that the only person ever to have said this seems to be Mr Biden's uncle. Mr Biden has used the line several times from at least 2014[1] and at least one commentaor has remarked upon Mr Biden's use of "folksy tales". Given the contest, it appears to mean "Completely", but it does not seem to be a well known idiom. [1] Joe Biden Calls for Fair Wage | Time time.com › Politics › White House 1 Sep 2014 - Biden, who is known for his blue collar roots, referenced his family roots and his ties to labor. “'Joey, you're labor from belt buckle to shoe sole,'”
    – Greybeard
    Sep 11, 2020 at 19:19
  • 6
    I’m voting to close this question because Mr Biden consistently gives the origin - his uncle. The absence of any other source indicates that the phrase is part of an idiolect.
    – Greybeard
    Sep 13, 2020 at 10:03
  • I’m voting to close this question because Mr Biden consistently gives the origin - his uncle. The absence of any other source indicates that the phrase is part of an idiolect (it's not an established collocation for Anglophones at large). Sep 29, 2020 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


The phrase 'belt buckle to shoe sole' is an idiolectic, truncated version of the formulaic 'top to bottom'. That same formula also sponsors such phrases as 'head to foot' (or 'head to toe'), and etc.

Precursors of Biden's truncated version include, among those already mentioned, "collar to shoesole" (paywalled; The Mahoning Dispatch, Canfield, Ohio, 15 Mar 1912, p. 6) and, the more likely source of Biden's uncle's putative expression, "hat to shoe-sole" (paywalled; The Lyons Republican, Lyons, Kansas, 13 Sep 1888, p. 1), which appeared in the popular press response to an 1888 speech by Ohio supreme court justice, senator, and vice presidential candidate Allen G. Thurman.

In Thurman's speech, the formula was considerably embellished:

These advocates of protectionism are all at once seized with


for the laboring man, and they want a high protective tariff, not to benefit the manufacturer, according to their statements, but to benefit the working man. He is the man they seek to protect. I would like to know how taxing a laboring man on everything from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet is going to enrich him. And yet this is exactly what this tariff tax does, and they say that is for the benefit of laboring men. Because the capitalist employer will make more money and can pay higher wages? Did you ever know him to do it?

(Paywalled; quoted from a report in The Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake City, Utah, 23 Aug 1888, p. 1. Emphasis mine.)

Biden's truncated version of the formula has an air of insider, or family, humor. I suspect that the pertinence of his sense to only half of the whole, the bottom half, is owed to Biden's personal and family history, wherein his more recent modest wealth is founded on middle-class beginnings and a political affinity for working-class supporters.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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