Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

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Waiting for the other shoe to drop is an American idiom that dates back to the early 1900's. It later found its way into British use but is heard much more often in America.

Meaning of Waiting for the Other Shoe To Drop

To wait for the other shoe to drop means to wait for an expected and inevitable event to occur. The event is most often negative. When this idiom is used, it is after some event has occurred and another event is expected to inevitably follow.

Usage

"My car started making a funny noise. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop." (I.E. for the car to break down).

"They laid off a couple of people at work today. Now we're all just waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Origin

This is a seemingly murky but actually straightforward idiom. When someone is taking off their shoes or boots, they tend to drop them on the floor. When one shoe drops, the other will inevitably follow. This expression probably has its origin in boarding or rooming houses of the early 1900's, where residents were crowded into multiple tiny walls and the walls were thin. Or from multi-floor apartment dwellings in cities like New York and Chicago, where one tenant's bedroom was always directly underneath another.

Tenement-house.jpg
Tenement-house.jpg

So, when someone came home and took off their shoes, it would be normal to hear a thud when one shoe dropped, and then a second thud when the other shoe dropped.

You can imagine that when someone came home, perhaps a worker with heavy boots, they would sit on their bed or chair and take off their footwear. They take off their first shoe and let it drop to the floor where it makes quite a loud noise. Now imagine that the residents in other rooms hear this shoe drop, knowing exactly what it is. They then wait for "the other shoe to drop." The resident, though, perhaps realizing what a loud noise he just made, places the second boot softly on the floor instead of dropping it. This leaves the other residents anticipating a noise that doesn't come, but they keep waiting, not wanting to be caught unaware and started.

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