Trading insults over a card table one evening, a friend tossed out a challenge in retaliation to one of my own: “OK, Little Goody Two Shoes!”

It’s such an old saying, but where did it come from? We’ve all read the story of the little orphan girl who had only one shoe, and how smug she became when she finally acquired a second. But the phrase was older than the story.

I began searching, and found that the 1765 nursery rhyme seems to have been possibly–a neat kind of backformation, where a story was invented to account for the phrase. Or perhaps the story existed as an oral folk tale before it arrived in print.

The story itself was so long it was called the first children’s novel and even compared to Cinderella who also had a missing shoe. The difference between the two stories is that Goody went about gloating over her good fortune which gives us the moral: don’t shout about your sudden good fortune; it makes you hard to be around. Remember that when you win the lottery or get a new pair of shoes.

The phrase was in use even before the story; it’s found in Charles Cotton’s 1670 book “Voyage To Ireland In Burlesque”. But who wrote the story? First published in 1765, it is thought that Oliver Goldsmith was possibly the author.

It was around before the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and the works of Lewis Carroll which attempted to promote excessive goodness to an unbearably sentimental degree. Many of the books I was given as a child praised the good child and sent the bad child to bed with no dinner. Naturally, I did not miss a meal.

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

11 thoughts on “LITTLE GOODY TWO SHOES”

  1. Do you know, I’ve never even thought about where that phrase came from? Thanks for the tidbit of trivia. I’ll find a small space in my mental files for it somewhere. Our family was more inclined to use the Little Girl Who Had A Little Curl to point out behaviour. 🙂


  2. When we were young a missed meal was not always a result of being naughty. There was simply sometimes no food. As a result of that, our naughty behavious would be punished by being sent early to bed, which was kinda nice, especially in winter. I like those early tales which my mother’s sister used to read out to us.


  3. Wasn’t it lovely to have someone read to us? My mother’s cousin was often my bedtime storyteller. Those stories took us to another world which we knew was not real, so it could be strange and scary and not ruffle our feathers too much.


  4. And we can’t forget that girls were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice,” while the poor boys only got “snips and snails and puppy dog tails.” Actually, I wouldn’t have minded the snails so much, although I was afraid of even puppies in childhood.

    I’m trying to remember what the phrase “Goody two shoes” connoted, back in the day. I think of a Goody two-shoes as a little priss, actually. I suppose that’s the smugness coming through. We mostly heard about the little girl who had the little curl. I was mostly very, very good. It might have been better if I’d mixed in some horridity from time to time, just for grins.


    1. The phrase was usually uttered with great sarcasm, so I didn’t want to be painted with that brush. Having been farmed out to various relatives, I tried extra hard to be good and unobtrusive. I always admired the girls who weren’t. When I entered my teen years my life became more settled, and I am reminded by my little group of high school girl friends that I was a risk taker. Of course, one of them remembers that I was sure I would have six children. Now THAT would be a risky business.


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