The conventional spelling of the noun meaning a sure winner is shoo-in, not shoe-in. The term uses the verb shoo, which means to urge something in a desired direction, usually by waving one’s arms. The idea behind the word is that the person being shooed—for example, into the winner’s circle, into a job, or into a field of award nominees—is such a lock that we can shoo him or her in without hesitation.

The term originated in the early 20th century. The earliest instances relate to horse racing, with the shoo-ins being horses that are destined to win through either dominance or race fixing. The earliest instance listed in the OED is from 1928, and we are unable to find any examples from earlier. The word seems to have blown up in the 1930s, though, and historical Google News and Books searches uncover numerous examples from that decade and the 40s. By the 1960s it was in use outside horse racing.


They strode like a colossus over the catwalks this spring, and were a shoo-in to become the biggest fashion trend of 2011. [Irish Times]

He says some of his supporters thought he was a shoo-in, so they didn’t bother voting. [Toronto Star]

He’s the most consistent of all the celebrities, ridiculously likable and practically a shoo-in for the finals at this point. [Houston Chronicle]

10 thoughts on “Shoo-in”

  1. It seems a strange use of shoo since dictionary definitions specify it as to frighten away, with no suggestion of a particular direction. Yet another example of the imprecise nature of American English.

  2. From MW user Cathi Frattini
    Because it’s wrong. Should be ‘shoe-in’ as it originated from the old door-to-door salesmen tactics who knew if they stuck their shoe in the door of the potential customer (before it was slammed shut), a sale was almost guaranteed. Should NOT be ‘shoo’ as ‘to drive away an unwanted animal’. If you have to shoo a sure winner, what’s the point? That’s like an oxymoron.

    • That commenter is obviously just repeating a half-baked theory she heard somewhere. There is no basis for it, and it goes against mountains of readily available evidence that “shoo-in” is the original and preferred form, so her using it to call “shoo-in” wrong is silly. In our next revision of this post, we’ll go back into the historical use of “shoo-in” and include some examples of its early use so that its path from sports to the broader sense becomes clearer.

      • It’s amazing how much snobbery people face with adding alternative interpretations. Let’s be honest, if ‘ain’t’ and ‘irregardless’ are now accepted usage (with significantly less history and significantly more ignorance), her interpretation is only invalid until you come up with it first.

        Just imagine the mayhem if we didn’t have sites like these to correct the ignorance and prevent people from using incorrect words! People would be irregardless more often and ain’t that a shame…

      • Yes, interestingly, other sites are able to provide clearer etymological roots, and with not nearly the same levels of condescension.

  3. the idea of censoring out and deleting conceptions of origin that someone finds “wrong” is repellent. Censorship is far worse for us. An intelligent person can read the discussions of etymology and learn more with enjoyment. Besides, many words have strayed from their original meanings over time. Language evolves. It can be playful, like music, build on homophones. That’s why we love slang, riffing and jiving on words, often to irritate the stodgy elders who would rap you on the knuckles with the “Rulers of Right Use.” Eff ’em! .


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