Saturday, 12 October 2013


I have a tongue in my shoe

The other day while out for a walk I tripped over an unusual word. I picked it up and examined it. It  seemed to have the right weight,  excellent fragrance and good looks. In all, a fine word.

I took it home, taking care not to mix up the order of its letters. I put it on the table. I stood it up, laid it down, looked at it back to front and upside down. After all this I still had no idea what it was. What it meant. However, it felt like a word with many possibilities. It felt like a friendly word. A word you want to get to know. The best way to get to know a word is to read it, then make friends. When I read the word it said "Quotidian". I decided to look it up. It told me : 'Daily'. 'Of everyday'. I looked it up in another dictionary. It told me the same, but added 'trivial' and 'commonplace'.

I looked up trivial: 'of small value or importance'. How does commonplace find itself next to trivial I wondered, and who relegates things to that place? What happens when we trivialise the commonplace. A place where most of us live.

Each day I travel the common place. It is not trivial. It is common in that it is for everyone, in that we all use it. As in The Commons, where I found the word which started this whole thing. I walked  the road. The common road. This makes me a pedestrian. This word, besides the meaning of 'going on foot' also means 'dull, uninspiring, prosaic'. I sometimes wonder how this comes about? What is dull about a pedestrian? Maybe, in our culture, pedestrians are considered dull because they do not drive a car. However, I enjoy the undull activity of walking. In most cases I wear shoes to walk the road. These are common objects. But how common are they really.

At this stage I remember the following quote, "Everyday things represent the most overlooked knowledge". And here is where the word  'Quotidian' returns. It  suggests "The depths and reach of the commonplace". The Common Place.

I had a good look at my shoes which walk the Common Place. Good shoes. Functional. A strong sculptural form. A thought occurred. We place all sorts of  junk on plinths and pedestals (Pedestal?

Pedestrian? Dull? unaspiring? prosaic?) in galleries and call it Art. We place expensive bits of  food on another type of pedestal, large white porcelain plates, and call it Food Art. But we overlook the truly special, the truly magnificent. The Common Shoe. Call it Foot Art

How do we make a common object Special? In the same way we make everything special. By giving it 'attention'.

I gave my shoe attention by trying to name the parts of the whole. Embarrassingly I got as far as front and back, top and bottom and two sides. Then I looked inside and saw 'the tongue' and realised that every other aspect of the shoe would probably have a name as well. Not only a name, but also a story attached to the name. What, by the way, is a tongue doing in my shoe.

Why do we name things? Why do we learn the name for things?

Because I did not know the names of the parts I decided to go to a shoe shop. No one in any of the five shoe shops I visited could tell me the parts of a shoe. Then I went to find a boot maker. I found an old fashioned one. One who knew his stuff. When I told him my problem he said: "You don't see the thing because you don't know how to look. You don't know how to look because you don't know the names" So let's look at this shoe.

Tell me what you know, he said. I knew the sole and the heel. Placing the shoe on the sole and the heel we looked at the rest of the shoe. So what else it there? We enjoyed looking at the shoe for a while and noticed the wonderful lines which ran along it. Made me think that the modern car body is most probably based on the form of a shoe. Just another form of the same transport.

There is 'Lace'. Lace on a shoe? At the end of the lace is a hard bit. It used to be metal but now is plastic of sorts. This is the "Tag" or "Aglet". This protects the end of the lace from fraying. It also  makes it easier to push the lace through the "Grommets". The little holes which have as protection a small ring, or "Eyelet".

The boot maker explained that the parts of the shoe are made from different grades of leather. Grades in terms of strengths. The strongest piece is above the heel. It is called the 'Counter'. (Interestingly it is also the name for the curved part of the stern of a ship). Then there is the 'Cuff', which figures, it is  the piece of leather which goes across the top edge of the shoe. Just like  shirts and pants have cuffs. The piece which fits between the Counter and the Cuff is the 'Quarter'. The Frontal area which covers  the instep is called the 'Vamp'. Look up this word and wonder. Finally the strip of leather which connects the sole is called the 'Welt'. 'World' in German. Und warum. And why.

He tells me that "because we don't know the name of things, everyday things remain hidden". Now  here is the last word from the boot maker.  "When I repair a shoe I use a steel object to place the shoe on. What is its name......?"

And  here,  in  hiding, is the  answer to the boot maker’s last question.




  1. I want you to know, Petrus, that this lovely, slow way of writing and wondering has really held my attention. And it's really, apparently only about a shoe. Please, world, let us hear more about the less-recognised and unnoticed, and please let us hear less from the big guns.

  2. Quotidian - I love that word - (a word I first came across many years ago at an arts camp) - it sounds so special which I believe is how we should really regard the 'everyday'. Where would we be without it?

  3. this was such fun, it won't be the *last* time i visit! by the way, i am wearing shoes. without a tongue or aglets, but with big buckles.