Three Pairs of Shoes (1886) by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90)

Three Pairs of Shoes (1886) by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90)
image: Van Gogh Gallery






characterised by a lack of care, thought, or organisation





A slip-shoe was a loosely fitting shoe or slipper. The word is first recorded in The fardle of facions conteining the aunciente maners, customes and lawes, of the peoples enhabiting the two partes of the earth, called Affricke and Asie (1555), an incomplete translation by William Waterman of the ethnographic compendium Omnium gentium mores, leges et ritus (The manners, laws and customs of all peoples – 1520), written by the German humanist Johann Boemus (circa 1485-1535). The chapter titled Of Turcquie, and of the maners, Lawes, and Ordenaunces of the Turcques contains:

House, or Churche, or any other place wher they entende to sitte, no man entreth with his shoes on. For it is compted a very dishonest and an vnmanerly facion, to sitte shoed. Wherfore they vse a maner of slippe shooes, that may lightly be putte of and on.

In the adjective slipshod, formed after the noun slip-shoe and literally meaning wearing loose shoes or slippers, shod, the past participle of the verb to shoe, means wearing shoes, as in high-shod, wearing high shoes, and dry-shod, having one’s shoes dry.

In King Lear (1603-06), William Shakespeare (1564-1616) suggested that going slipshod was suitable for persons with chilblains (kibes in the text):

- Fool: If a man’s brains were in’s heels, were’t not in danger of kibes?
– King Lear: Ay, boy.
– Fool: Then, I prithee, be merry; thy wit shall ne’er go slip-shod.

The word was also used pejoratively in the comedy Your Five Gallants (1607-08) by Thomas Middleton (circa 1570-1627), in which a character says to a tailor

out a’ th’ house, you slipshod, sham-legged, brown-thread-penny-skeined rascal!

The adjective came to mean, of shoes, untidy, in bad condition, worn down at the heel. In St. Ronan’s Well (1823), the Scottish novelist Walter Scott (1771-1832) described “the learned minister of St. Ronan’s” and “the carelessness of his dress”:

black stockings, ungartered, marked his professional dress, and his feet were thrust into the old slip-shod shoes, which served him instead of slippers.

The word was used figuratively in the sense of careless, slovenly, by the poet and literary critic James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) in The Feast of the Poets (1814). About the poet George Crabbe (1754-1832), he wrote:

His versification, where the force of his thoughts does not compel you to forget it, is a strange kind of bustle between the lameness of Cowper and the slip-shod vigour of Churchill, though I am afraid it has more of the former than the latter.

And, in Sybil; or, The Two Nations (1845), the Prime Minister and novelist Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81) wrote of

those middle-aged nameless gentlemen of easy circumstances who haunt clubs, and dine a great deal at each other’s houses and chambers; men who travel regularly a little, and gossip regularly a great deal; who lead a sort of facile, slipshod existence, doing nothing, yet mightily interested in what others do.

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