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Word of the day: schoen (shoe)

Have you ever wondered why it is ‘shoe’ in English and ‘Schuh’ in German while it is SCHOEN in Dutch? The answer is simple. Originally the Dutch word was also ‘schoe’ and its plural was ‘schoen’. 


Because foot coverings usually go in pairs, people must have used the plural so often that they forgot the singular form. And that’s why Dutch has a double plural for ‘shoe’. When the Dutch say SCHOENEN this translates as ‘shoeses’.

Do you know the popular phrase ‘wie de schoen past, trekke hem aan’ (if the shoe fits, wear it)? It is an expression that was already used in our Golden Age, the seventeenth century. Our good friend and poet Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) used it in one of his poems: ‘dien de schoen wel past die treckt hem geeren aen’ (who fits the shoe well, he would gladly put it on).

This expression may remind you of Perrault’s and Grimm’s fairy tale (SPROOKJE) ‘The little glass slipper’. Remember the besotted prince with the shoe fetish who found and identified Cinderella by fitting the tiny slipper she had lost at the ball at midnight. But no, this SPROOKJE has nothing to do with this expression.

‘Wie de schoen past, trekke hem aan’ sounds favourable, but this is only appearance and, as you know ‘schijn bedriegt’, appearances are deceptive. I’ll give you an example. Something I experienced fifty years ago.

One day a ball was kicked through a window of my primary school. When the headmaster ran outside to see who had done the criminal deed, everybody was minding his or her business. Later he called all the kids together and asked them who the culprit was. No one owned up. Mum was the word. So the cranky headmaster looked at them all and said: one of you is guilty and because of him you all have to stay behind. This person is a coward: ‘wie de schoen past, trekke hem aan’. I still have this nightmare sometimes.

By the way, if you wondered why this strange form of ‘trekke’ instead of ‘trek’. It is an ancient grammatical form (subjunctive mood) that isn’t used very often anymore except in old sayings.

There are many sayings with SCHOEN. Do you know any?
And can you explain to me why women have so much more feeling for shoes than men?