Shoo-in, shoo-out

Posted by ESC on August 07, 2000

In Reply to: Shoo In posted by Bruce Kahl on August 01, 2000

: : I'm looking for the derivation of the term "shoe in" as in "He's a shoe in for the job."

: : Thanks!

: "Shoo in" was originally a racetrack term, and was is applied to a horse expected to easily win a race, and, by extension, to any contestant expected to win an easy victory. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the term in print dates back to 1928. A "shoo in" was originally a horse that was expected to win a race, not by virtue of its speed or endurance, but because the race was fixed. The sardonic "subtext" of the original usage, now lost, was that the designated horse would win even if it were so lackadaisical in its performance that it simply wandered somehow up to the finish line and had to be "shooed in" to victory.

I was looking in Safire's New Political Dictionary by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993) for information on "table" (see Table It! post). And noticed some additional information on "shoo-in" and an earlier citation in print.

SHOO-IN -- a certain winner; a candidate who can only be defeated by a political miracle. Like front runner, bolt, dark horse, and many others this metaphor is taken from racing, but this one has a fraudulent background. When jockeys form a 'ring' and bet on a single horse, they hold back their own mounts and 'chase in' or shoo in' the horse selected to be the winner. 'Racing Maxims and Methods of 'Pittsburgh Phil,' published in 1908, points out: 'There were many times presumably that 'Tod' would win through such manipulations, being 'shooed in,' as it were.'...'To shoo' is a colloquialism meaning to urge gently a person or animal to go in a desired direction. It made its first recorded appearance around the turn of the twentieth century. 'Shoo-in' -- minus its crooked connotation, now only meaning 'sure thing' -- began to be used politically in the forties...The word was sufficiently secured in the political lexicon in 1967 to rate a turnaround. The 'Wall Street Journal' called the candidate hopelessly running against popular Congressman Adam Clayton Powell in New York's Harlem a 'shoo-out."