Tuesday, February 17, 2009

For God’s Sake, Drop the Other Shoe!

For me, there is nothing worse than waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s that sickening feeling you get when you know an accident is inevitable, but just before it happens.

It’s watching a movie you’ve already seen and knowing the tragic result. It’s the desperation three-point shot that you know isn’t going to go in. It’s the Ace on the River that isn’t going to come. It’s the moment just before the doctor gives you a bad diagnosis. It’s when you know you are going to lose your job, or get dumped, or lose the deal and it’s too late to change anything, but you keep hoping against hope that what you know will happen, won’t happen.

This weekend was like that for me. We’d done all we could do and were waiting for the result. Still hoping but knowing in our heart of hearts that we’d lost. So I decided to research the origin of the phase that describes this feeling: “Waiting for the other shoe to drop.” It turns out that it’s the punch line of a very old joke:

Its source is said to come from the following story. A man comes in late at night to a lodging house, rather the worse for wear. He sits on his bed, drags one shoe off and drops it on the floor. Guiltily remembering everyone around him is trying to sleep, he takes the other one off much more carefully and quietly puts in on the floor. He then finishes undressing and gets into bed. Just as he is drifting off to sleep, a shout comes from the man in the room below: “Well, drop the other one then! I can’t sleep, waiting for you to drop the other shoe!”. This may come from music hall or vaudeville, though it would seem that nobody has been able to tie it down more precisely.

Credit goes to Charles Costante at http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=77101

Apparently this joke was old, even in 1921:

More recently, he found an even older example in the New York Times of March 1921: “If nine out of ten of us hadn’t heard that ‘drop that other shoe’ chestnut and molded our lives accordingly for the sake of the neighbor below us, what would be the end of us?” So it was old even then.


But there is a joke within the joke. The other shoe is never going to drop—it’s already been placed quietly on the floor. So the man in the room below is staying awake needlessly worrying about something that is never going to happen. I guess that’s a lesson to us all.

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