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.