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On a shoestring

[ 2010-09-16 11:44]     字号 [] [] []  
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On a shoestring

Reader's question:  

Trying to survive on a shoestring

There are many things we expats take for granted in the constantly changing city of Beijing, living our lives of relative or genuine luxury.

Could you explain “to survive on a shoestring”?

My comments:

To survive on a shoestring is to survive on very little. In other words, to eke out a living.

A shoestring is a thin piece of thread used to lace up the shoes. In the old days, I mean before nylon and all sorts of synthetics were invented, shoestrings were made of, say, cotton and were flimsy and fragile, easy to break. This easy-to-break quality is probably what gave rise to this expression.

The Maven's Word of the Day (RandomHouse.com, May 4, 2001) gave a few interesting if not whole plausible explanations as to its origin. One of these is this:

Christine Ammer, in The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, mentions (and dismisses) what she calls "a fanciful theory" involving debtors in British prisons who supposedly lowered a shoe to ground level from a window on tied-together shoelaces, hoping to solicit contributions of money from the occasional passerby. We agree. This appears to be yet another example of creative, picturesque, but utterly groundless etymologizing.

Anyways, use this expression in situations where people try to make do with little resources, such as an entrepreneur running a startup company on a "shoestring budget", or a struggling painter "surviving on a shoestring", which sometimes merely means his paintings are not selling and fetching him big bucks.

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Go to Zhang Xin's column


About the author:

Zhang Xin has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.