Shoe. It was at one time thought unlucky to put on the left shoe before the right, or to put either shoe on the wrong foot. It is said that Augustus Caesar was nearly assassinated by a mutiny one day when he put on his left shoe first.
“Augnste, cet empereur qui gouverna avec tant de sagesse, et dont le règne fut si florissant, restoit immobile et consterné lorsqu'il lui arrivoit par megarde de mettre le soulier droit au pied gauche et le soulier gauche au pied droit.” —St. Foix.
A shoe too large trips one up. A Latin proverb, “Calceus major subvertit.” An empire too large falls to pieces; a business too large comes to grief; an ambition too large fails altogether.
Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy (Josh. v. 15). Loosing the shoe is a mark of respect in the East, among Moslems and Hindus, to the present hour. The Mussulman leaves his slippers at the door of the mosque. The Mahometan moonshee comes barefooted into the presence of his superiors. The governor of a town, in making a visit of ceremony to a European visitor, leaves his slippers at the tent entrance, as a mark of respect. There are two reasons for this custom: (1) It is a mark of humility, the shoe being a sign of dignity, and the shoeless foot a mark of servitude. (2) Leather, being held to be an unclean thing, would contaminate the sacred floor and offend the insulted idol. (See Sandal.)
Plucking off the shoe among the Jews, smoking a pipe together among the Indians, breaking a straw together among the Teutons, and shaking hands among the English, are all ceremonies to confirm a bargain, now done by “earnest money.”
Put on the right shoe first. One of the auditions of Pythagoras was this: “When stretching forth your feet to have your sandals put on, first extend your right foot, but when about to step into a bath, let your left foot enter first.” Iamblichus says the hidden meaning is that worthy actions should be done heartily, but base ones should be avoided. (Protreptics, symbol xii.).
Throwing the wedding-shoe. It has long been a custom in England, Scotland, and elsewhere, to throw an old shoe, or several shoes, at the bride and bridegroom when they quit the bride's home, after the wedding breakfast, or when they go to church to get married. Some think this represents an assault and refers to the ancient notion that the bridegroom carried off the bride with force and violence. Others look upon it as a relic of the ancient law of exchange, implying that the parents of the bride give up henceforth all right of dominion to their daughter. This was a Jewish custom. Thus, in Deut. xxv. 5-10 we read that the widow refused by the surviving brother, asserted her independence by “loosing his shoe;” and in the story of Ruth we are told “that it was the custom” in exchange to deliver a shoe in token of renunciation. When Boaz, therefore, became possessed of his lot, the kinsman's kinsman indicated his assent by giving Boaz his shoe. When the Emperor Wladimir proposed marriage to the daughter of Reginald, she rejected him, saying, “I will not take off my shoe to the son of a slave.” Luther being at a wedding, told the bridegroom that he had placed the husband's shoe on the head of the bed, “afin qu'il prit ainsi la domination et le gouvernement.” (Michel: Life of Luther.) In Anglo-Saxon marriages the father delivered the bride's shoe to the bridegroom, who touched her with it on the head to show his authority.
In Turkey the bridegroom, after marriage, is chased by the guests, who either administer blows by way of adieux, or pelt him with slippers. (Thirty Years in the Harem, p. 330.)
Another man's shoes. “To stand in another man's shoes.” To occupy the place or lay claim to the honours of another. Among the ancient Northmen, when a man adopted a son, the person adopted put on the shoes of the adopter. (Braylet: Graphic Illustrator; 1834.)
In the tale of Reynard the Fox (fourteenth century), Master Reynard, having turned the tables on Sir Bruin the Bear, asked the queen to let him have the shoes of the disgraced minister; so Bruin's shoes were torn off and put upon Reynard, the new favourite.
Another pair of shoes. Another matter.
“But how a world that notes his [the Prince of Wales's] daily doings- the everlasting round of weary fashion, the health-returnings, speeches, interviewing - can grudge him some relief, without compunction, them's quite another pair of shoes.” —Punch, 17th June, 1891.
Dead men's shoes. Waiting or looking for dead men's shoes. Counting on some advantage to which you will succeed when the present possessor is dead.
“A man without sandals” was a proverbial expression among the Jews for a prodigal, from the custom of giving one's sandals in confirmation of a bargain. (See Deut. xxv. 9, Ruth iv. 7.)
Over shoes, over boots. In for a penny, in for a pound.
Where true courage roots, The proverb says, `once over shoes, o'er boots.'
Taylor's Workes, ii. 145 (1690).
To die in one's shoes. To die on the scaffold.
And there's Mr. Fuse, and Lieutenant Tregooze, And there is Sir Carnaby Jenks, of the Blues, All come to see a man die in his shoes.
To shake in one's shoes. To be in a state of nervous terror. To step into another man's shoes. To take the office or position previously held by another.
“ `That will do, sir,' he thundered, `that will do. It is very evident now what would happen if you stepped into my shoes.” —Good Words, 1887.
Waiting for my shoes. Hoping for my death. Amongst the ancient Jews the transfer of an inheritance was made by the new party pulling off the shoe of the possessor. (See Ruth iv. 7.)
Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear (Matt. iii. 11). This means, “I am not worthy to be his humblest slave.” It was the business of a slave recently purchased to loose and carry his master's sandals. (Jahn: Archceologica Biblica.)
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894