Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Goody Two Shoes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 14, 2013

Usually when you hear someone say that someone else is a goody two shoes, it’s a comment said with a lack of affection. That’s because a goody two-shoes is someone who always followed the rules, and most often to the point of being annoying to those who choose to either follow some of the rules or none of the rules, as suits their fancy. In other words, a goody two-shoes, also known as a goody goody, is someone who is uncommonly good.

Don’t think for a minute that a goody two shoes is well-loved by others because he or she isn’t, as shown by this article dated May 11, 2009 a entitled, “Goody Two Shoes Don’t Fit” and published by Independent Newspapers of South Africa that opens with this paragraph:

Everyone despises a Miss Goody Two Shoes, and Isidingo’s Thandi has to be the epitomé of goody two shoes. She’s the kind of girl who bought teacher an apple every day and covered her essay books in pretty pink paper with cherubs. Uggghhh!

Back on July 13, 1986 the Milwaukee Journal carried a news story by Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times which lamented TV shows about the law and the legal process. Still, the writer was hoping that “L.A. Law” from NBC would change all that. The article was entitled, “TV’s Goody-Two-Shoes-Type Lawyers Are Rarely Found In The Real World.”

When the editors of the St. Petersburg Times included a bit in the October 7, 1944 edition about the movie being written about Cole Porter’s life, the comment was kept to two sentences in the column entitled, “Lint From A Blue Serge Suit.” These two sentences were as follows:

The scripters working on Cole Porter’s screen biography, “Night And Day,” are having story trouble. The composer’s life, it appears, is too goody-goody for “dramatic purposes.”

When Justice Jerome make a tour through Harlem on his campaign, the New York Times wrote all about it and published it in their October 24, 1901 edition. Among many things, Justice Jerome took issue with Andrew Carnegie’s claim that New York’s streets were well-kept and clean when, according to him, the streets were almost perilous to public health. Rousting those who attended his speech, at one point he was quoted as saying:

Will you have four years more of gamblers’ domination? On the platform opposed to such I stand and will stick on that platform, and with the decent people of New York will go down to defeat on it if necessary. If it comes to a question of standing with the churches and honest, decent people of this city against crooks and gamblers, I prefer to stand with the decent people even at the risk of being called a Puritan and goody-goody. We can keep our skirts clean and win — and if we do win — God help the other fellows.

Back in the 1870s, the Oxford English Dictionary had an entry for goody goody in which the definition stated that a goody goody was “characterized by inept manifestations of good or pious sentiment.” It wasn’t much of a compliment then, to be a goody goody.

And forty years before that, the expression goody referred to anyone or anything that was sentimentally proper. Another forty years before that, and the expression goody was an exclamation of pleasure.

But it was the nursery tale written by John Newbery and published in 1765 that started the Goody Two-Shoes idiom with his story “The History Of Little Goody Two Shoes.” The story was about a little orphan named Margery Meanwell who only had one shoe. When a rich man gives her a complete pair, she keeps repeating that she now has two shoes thereby earning her nickname, Little Goody Two-Shoes. The story follows Little Goody Two Shoes into adulthood where her kindness, virtue, and gentleness are rewarded with great happiness in the end … a variation on the Cinderella story, if you will.

That being said, the moral of the story was that if you acted correctly and with virtue, you would be rewarded.

So how did all that tie in with the word goody, you ask? Back in the mid-1500s, goody was the shortened form of goodwife and a goodwife was described as a married woman who led a humble yet good life.

So while the idiom proper dates back to 1765, its roots stretch out two hundred years earlier.

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