Shoehorning the language

By Author   |   Published: 25th Sep 2017   12:01 am Updated: 24th Sep 2017   7:27 pm


While I usually write a quick introductory line at the beginning of these articles, I never go to the trouble of selecting a specific theme of the week, or somehow shoehorning the idioms selected into a particular theme. That’s not always by choice; finding the right theme can be be real doozy sometimes.



“It’s actually a really tiny restaurant that’s shoehorned between two big commercial buildings, but they have really amazing food.”

“So there I was, shoehorned between two people that spent all night telling each other stupid jokes, and it was quite a miserable bus journey.”

“I get the idea of creating awareness about important issues, but why shoehorn that agenda into TV shows that I just want to watch for fun?”

“A great many boxers were eager to shoehorn themselves onto the agenda for the tournament.”
Meanings and Usage

A shoehorn is a smooth, curved piece usually made of wood or metal that is used when putting on shoes. The idea is that once the front of your foot is inside the shoe, fitting in the heel can be tricky. Using a shoehorn makes the process easy, and at the same time prevents damage to the shoe. Used as a verb, shoehorning refers to the act of using a shoehorn.

Since using a shoehorn always involves making something fit into a tight space, and often rather forcefully, this experience gives us the figurative sense of the word: to make something fit into a space forcefully, especially when it does not belong there, or looks odd. But as our examples above indicate, the meaning is not just limited to space, but is also extended to ideas and concepts, or to busy schedules. So you can shoehorn an extra meeting into a busy schedule, or you can shoehorn a concept from one domain into another domain. You might say, for example, that the way moviemakers shoehorn comedy scenes in serious movies is silly. Or you might complain about moviemakers shoehorning social and educational messages in children’s films in a way that ruins the films.


Are there any instances of shoehorning—both literal and figurative—that you have encountered? Maybe a cramped journey, or an awkward movie plot? Describe one such instance in a couple of sentences.

Rewrite the following sentence to use the word ‘shoehorn’: “When reading a book, just enjoy the story, and stop trying to force some abstract meaning onto it.”



“In the morning, it looked like we’d get some light rain, but by afternoon that turned into a thunderstorm, and it was a doozy!”

“My test was going quite well, and I was answering all the questions nicely, when I suddenly hit a doozy and got stuck!”

“Did you see that rally? More than seventy shots, and both the players just never gave up! I’m telling you, that rally was a real doozy!”

Meanings and Usage

In its most general sense, the word is used to refer to something that is unique and surprising. But based on context, the word applies a sense of intensity to whatever you are describing. You can have ‘a real doozy of an exam,’ for example, which would mean that you had a particularly tough exam. In the same way, a thunderstorm can be a doozy, which would mean a particularly and unexpectedly strong thunderstorm. You can use this word to emphasize the extraordinariness or impressiveness of pretty much anything. And as always in our articles, this expression is informal and conversational, so avoid using it in formal contexts. In actual usage, the word describes only the intensity of something, so it can be used to describe negative things as much as positive things. Our third example above uses the word ‘doozy’ in connection with something that is exciting and positive.


For the rest of this week, whenever you see something impressive, take the opportunity to describe it as a doozy.

Scan some recent newspapers, especially focusing on sports coverage. Can you rewrite some of the sentences using the word ‘doozy?’ Look for descriptions of player actions and achievements in particular, that’s where you’ll find opportunities easiest.

– Nilesh Jahagirdar