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What is the origin of the phrase "Mama needs a new pair of shoes"?
March 11, 2009 1:41 AM   Subscribe

What is the origin of the phrase "Mama needs a new pair of shoes"? I've also seen "Mama needs new shoes". Where did it come from and why is it sometimes used specifically in relation to gambling?

Google tells me there's a short story by that name written by Effie Leland Wilder, published in 1958. My local library doesn't have any of her books, so can't tell if she coined the phrase. How come this phrase caught people's imagination?
It's driving me nuts, particularly because this continues to make me laugh out loud and I don't even know why!
posted by =^^= to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have a cite from this, but whenever I've seen it in TV shows and movies, the person saying it is always gambling, and almost always Craps. Here's someone else with a similar but uncited belief. Other googling has shown it in reference to gambling, so I'm pretty sure about that.

I think the original phrase is "Baby needs a new pair of shoes", and from this variations of the form "X needs Y" have spawned. Besides being more familiar, it has more google hits, and if you search for "Baby needs a new pair of shoes on wikipedia", it redirects you to the craps page [which has no mention of the phrase]
posted by radicarian at 2:08 AM on March 11, 2009


And from the History of Dice on the Big Site of Amazing Facts:

Black Americans around New Orleans are often credited with developing the game of craps as it is played today. They also left us with a wealth of dice slang. There's hardly any need to tell you what "Mississippi marbles" or "Memphis dominos" are. Or "snake eyes", or "boxcars". How about "Little Joe from Kokomo"? Fours, my friend. And let's not forget that worn out exhortation, "Come on mama, baby needs a new pair of shoes"!


googling for craps needs a new pair of shoes gets a lot of hits, so this seems to be the right idea
posted by radicarian at 2:18 AM on March 11, 2009


It is 'Baby needs a new pair of shoes' and it's not a recent thing:

The Washington Post 1877; Nov 19, 1916; pg. ES5 col 1.
"There is a great snapping of fingers, and the men bending over the
tables are heard to utter these mysterious cabalistic words: "Come on,
Little Joe!" "Git him, seben!" "Baby needs a pair of shoes!" "Eighter
from Decatur!" "

posted by vacapinta at 2:20 AM on March 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Since your POV is for comedy effect, I've always preferred the less common "daddy needs new shoes" to either baby or mama, or any version with extraneous words, because it has an extra twist of selfishness to it.

I also prefer the meter: dattada-da-daaaa sounds better than daaaatada-da-daaaa to me, and is easier to say quickly.
posted by rokusan at 5:20 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, semi-piggyback: does the web have a search engine for 'first published use of PHRASE' somewhere? Because the history of AskMe suggests there's a market.
posted by rokusan at 5:22 AM on March 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Further prood that it's not-a-recent-thing: there's a pretty well-known photo of the interior of a Los Angeles speakeasy during the Prohibition era that had a big sign over the bar that read "Don't buy booze if baby needs shoes," which sounds to me like a riff on that popular phrase.
posted by chez shoes at 5:51 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not to get all stupidsexyflanders or anything, but it's baby, not mama that needs those shoes. You know when you are out gambling the family finances away it sounds better if you are seeking a win to provide for your baby rather than to say buy beer.
posted by caddis at 7:09 AM on March 11, 2009


@rokusan: the suggestion "daddy needs.." actually subverts the original point of the saying.
posted by mary8nne at 7:25 AM on March 11, 2009


Huh, I never got the reference before, but I wonder if that's where "Leo needs a new pair of boots" came from on Twin Peaks.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:08 AM on March 11, 2009


You know when you are out gambling the family finances away it sounds better if you are seeking a win to provide for your baby rather than to say buy beer.

I think "baby" in this case refers to a girlfriend, rather then a child.
posted by delmoi at 8:53 AM on March 11, 2009


@rokusan: the suggestion "daddy needs.." actually subverts the original point of the saying.

That's why I like it. See again: "because it has an extra twist of selfishness to it."
posted by rokusan at 9:04 AM on March 11, 2009


Ice Cube, a known subverter of points, declares in "What They Hittin' Foe" that "Papa needs brand-new shoes and a sweatshirt," while he is indeed "fucking around in a crap game."

In other words, nthing craps, but nothing specific.
posted by papayaninja at 6:45 PM on March 11, 2009


I think "baby" in this case refers to a girlfriend, rather then a child.

On what do you base this opinion?

(not that it might not be right, I really don't know for sure, and I don't know if they used the term "baby" a century ago to refer to one's girl, but even if they did, why not a literal interpretation?...google fails me here)
posted by caddis at 6:59 PM on March 11, 2009


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