I heard the phrase “Goody two shoes” used recently and began wondering at its origin, the phrase being used to describe a person (usually female, hence the common alternative ‘Miss Goody Two Shoes’) who is excessively virtuous.
On looking into it, here is what I found:
- ‘Goody’ is an abbreviation of “Goodwife” and was used as a polite form of address for women, formerly used where "Mrs.", "Miss" and "Ms." would be used today. A woman addressed by this title was of a lesser social rank than a woman addressed as Mistress. The earliest known use dates from 1325 and, although no longer in use today, the term is used in referring to females in Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible. (For younger readers: substitute “1996 Daniel day Lewis/Winona Ryder film The Crucible.”)
- Accordingly the terms “Miss” and “Goody”, when used in the phrase Miss Goody Two-Shoes, mean the same thing and are a tautologous unnecessary repetition.
- Although the expression 'Goody Two-Shoes' is sometimes credited to the children's book The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765), the expression appears as far back as a century earlier where it was used to compare someone privileged, ie having two shoes, in comparison to those who had none.
- The book The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes did, however, popularise the term.
The book is a children’s story, a variation of the Cinderella story.
Margery Meanwell is a poor orphan who goes through life with only one shoe. When a rich gentleman gives her a complete pair, she is so happy that she tells everyone:
"She ran out to Mrs. Smith as soon as they were put on, and stroking down her ragged Apron thus, cried out, 'Two Shoes, Mame, see two Shoes'. And so she behaved to all the People she met, and by that Means obtained the Name of 'Goody Two-Shoes…”
Later, Margery becomes a teacher and, by virtue of her hard work and dedication to what is right, achieves success: she marries a rich widower.
The monetary reward is proof of the payoff for virtue a popular theme in children's literature of the era.
A woodcut of Goody Two-Shoes from the 1768 edition of the novel
The cover of the 1888 edition of Goody Two-Shoes
- From there the term “Goody Two Shoes” came to be used to describe someone excessively virtuous and self-righteous.
- This in turn, from the beginning of the 20th century, gave rise to the term “goody goody” to mean the same thing, such as “Don’t be such a goody goody.”
By the way:
The Cinderella complex, first described by Colette Dowling, is the term used to describe women's fear of independence, an unconscious desire to be taken care of by others. The complex is said to become more apparent as a person grows older. The complex is named after the fairy tale character Cinderella. It is based on the idea of femininity portrayed in that story, where a woman is beautiful, graceful, polite, supportive, hardworking, independent, and maligned by the females of her society, but she is not capable of changing her situations with her own actions and must be helped by an outside force, usually a male (i.e., the Prince).
The Cinderella effect is the term used in evolutionary psychology to describe alleged higher incidence of different forms of child-abuse and mistreatment by stepparents than by biological parents. It takes its name from the fairy tale character Cinderella. Evolutionary psychologists describe the effect as a remnant of an adaptive reproductive strategy among primates in which males frequently kill the offspring of other males in order to bring their mothers into estrus, and give the male a chance to fertilize her himself. There is both supporting evidence for this theory and criticism against it.
One final thought . . .