“I will write your name on the bottom of my old shoes” (Σε γράφω στα παλιά μου τα παπούτσια)
EF is an eight-two-year-old woman who is like a surrogate grandma to me. She lives in Northridge, CA., but grew up in a small Greek village called Corfu; she remains very connected to her Greek heritage and culture. From her cooking to her proverbial warnings, she is filled with unique folklore that she loves to share. I facetimed EF and asked her to give me staple proverbs or sayings from her small village. She decided to share this proverb because it stood out in her mind.
EF- When a guy is very angry at another guy, he can say “I will write you on the bottom of my shoe.” That’s when they want nothing to do with each other.
Interviewer- Can you remember a time when you heard someone say this?
EF- (in a serious tone) Yes! My ex-husband screamed it at my brother (bursts out laughing).
After she finished chuckling, she explained that it is a very serious insult but mostly exchanged between men.
Since the informant did not know when she heard this proverb, that pointed to a possible historical origin. I researched the phrase and found one explanation. According to the article, this insult dates back to a practice by a Babylonian king when firing the lords. The king would write the unlucky lord’s name on the bottom of a pair of old shoes and send them to him. This represented not only the lord’s loss of title but also that he meant nothing to the king anymore (Kontolemos, 2022). It is understandable why this is perceived as a very serious statement that is only used in intense arguments. The fact that this folk speech is still widely used in Greece illustrates how important history and tradition is in Greek culture. Beyond the Babylonian explanation, one could interpret this phrase as the person is so worthless that they belong under my shoe like trash. The theatrical nature of writing a person’s name on old shoes represents an ongoing insult because the name will never come off the shoes, just as the person who wronged you will never mean anything to you again.
Kontolemos, A. (2022, May 12). 11 greek expressions you should know. Mental Floss. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/greek-phrases