SHOO-IN: “a person or thing that is certain to succeed, esp. someone who is certain to win a competition.” – New Oxford American Dictionary

This is not a real lexicide, and to be honest, the perpetrator here is yours truly. Recently, I used the improper shoe-in on, of all places, Facebook. A “friend” (yes, one of those) called me on it. Like a preacher caught in a brothel, somehow the offense seems dirtier coming from me.

So off I went in search of shoo-in’s origin. Like many other useful terms (“hands down” comes to mind), shoo-in comes from the world of horse racing, where the nippy nags are literally shooed in to the finish (to shoo meaning, of course, to drive an animal where you want it to go). Presumably all the jockeys are shooing in their mounts, so how did this term come to apply only to sure bets? Opinions vary, but William Safire wrote that in a fixed race it was the other jockeys who shooed in the decided winner while simultaneously holding their own steeds back. This origin story sounds murky to me, but as this site demonstrates, crisp logic is not a prerequisite for etymology.

So please forgive this foray into non-lexicidal, non-corporatese misspelling, but I do feel like I’ve done a kind of penance. All the better to shoo away future lexicides.

Otto E. Mezzo


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