Q. Do you know how the phrase "goody-two-shoes" originated?A. "Goody Two-shoes" was the nickname of the little girl heroine of "The History of Little Goody Two-shoes," a children's story written in the mid-18th century. The little girl of the story had only one shoe; when she was given a new pair, her excitement and happiness inspired the nickname. As the story goes, "the Pleasure she took in her two Shoes . . . by that Means (she) obtained the Name of Goody Two-Shoes."
At the time the story was written, "goody" (an alteration of "goodwife") was used as a title preceding a woman's surname, as in "Goody Smith." This may have influenced the story's writer in his choice of a nickname for his young heroine.
Another influence may have been the use of "goody" to mean "something that is particularly attractive, pleasurable, good or desirable." This meaning was first recorded in use in 1756, about 10 years before the publication of the story.
In the 19th century, writers began to use "two-shoes" to refer to a child, in much the same way we might use "little one," as in "a curly-haired two-shoes." For these writers, the phrase carried none of the connotations of affectation and insincerity that "goody-two-shoes" holds for us today.
Our earliest evidence for the modern use of "goody-two-shoes" is from 1969. It seems clear that its modern sense draws on the older use of "two-shoes" to refer to a child, borrowing the idea that children are innocent and naive and adding the implication of insincerity and false sentimentality. The development of these more negative connotations was probably influenced by the phrase "goody-goody," meaning "affectedly or ingratiatingly good or proper," which first appeared in 1871.
Q. A song in a popular animated film uses the word "nabob." I'm not familiar with this odd word. Could you shed some light on it?
A. The English word "nabob" derives from Urdu, an Indo-Aryan language that is widely used by Muslims in urban areas of India and is an official language of Pakistan. "Nabob" is actually a corruption of the Urdu word "nawwab," which in turn derives from "nuw-wab," the plural form of the Arabic "na'ib," meaning "governor." Specifically, the word referred to a provincial governor in India during the time of the Mogul Empire.
Started by Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan, the Muslim Mogul (also spelled "Mughal") dynasty ruled much of India from the early 16th century to the mid-18th century. The Moguls were known for their talented and able rulers and their efficient administration of government. The power, wealth, and influence of the Mogul leaders was such that it can be detected in the English language today.
In tribute to the governors of this dynasty, "nabob" refers to a person of great prominence or wealth. More-over, "mogul" has come to be used in an extended sense in English to denote a dominant person in a particular business or field, as in familiar references to "movie moguls."
Q. Why is the maternal side of a family known as the "distaff" side?
A. A distaff was originally a short staff that held a bundle of fibers - as of flax or wool, for example - that were drawn and twisted into yarn or thread either by hand or with the aid of a spinning wheel. The job of spinning customarily fell to the women of the family, and since it was such a basic daily task, the distaff naturally came to be the symbol for women's work. This symbolic use of the word "distaff" dates back to the time of Chaucer and is found a number of times in the works of Shakespeare. Eventually "distaff" came to be used figuratively for everything relating to the womanly domain and for womankind collectively, and the women of a family became known as the distaff or the distaff side.