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Odd-shoe boy

This curious old term was reported by reader Daniel Elasky, who had come across it in the US Census Bureau’s Occupational Classification.

It’s hardly a job title that a modern youth would aspire to. But it was indeed a class of work (one can hardly dignify it as an occupation) in the US boot and shoe industry. To judge from advertisements, it seems to date from the early twentieth century.

The odd-shoe boy would run errands or do odd jobs that needed no training or which nobody else wanted to do. Odd shoe girls also existed and — if we’re to judge by the number of advertisements for them — were more common. However, ads for them frequently insisted that they be experienced, implying that their job required more skill. (So did ads for an even more odd-sounding job from the Classification, a bad work girl, who repaired mistakes by others in a dress factory.)

The job has vanished, as have so many specialist trades, but as recently as 1968 it was being advertised alongside other work in the industry:

We have immediate full time openings for experienced Shankers, Heel Attachers, Last Pullers, Innersole Packers, Upper Trimmers. Sole Layers, Odd Shoe Boy, Sock Liners, Heel Paddlers Cleaners, TCF Pressers. Also inexperienced help wanted.

Lowell Sun, (Massachusetts), 30 Aug. 1968. May we assume that only one odd shoe boy was wanted because necessarily they always came singly?

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 25 Feb. 2012

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 25 February 2012.