Gitmo, white shoes, hoi polloi

Warning: this entry wanders all over the place; also, it contains sarcasm.

I was intrigued by the US News and World Report headline "A bit of clarity from the court," so I read the article; it doesn't provide all that much new clarity, but it does have one bit that pleased me tremendously:

Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the public-interest group representing detainees at Guantanamo, said defense lawyers' first step will be to push for meetings with their clients. Olshansky says her tiny center also is lining up lawyers for the other detainees. Everyone from solo practitioners to white-shoe law firms is offering help. "Big firms are calling saying, 'We have 300 lawyers and everyone is willing to go to Guantanamo,'" she said.

(And btw, if you, like me, have been wondering whether "Gitmo" is an official name or a nickname, Wikipedia to the rescue once again: "Guantanamo Bay (abbreviated as GTMO or 'Gitmo'). . . .")

I was so struck by the lawyers offering to help out that I went to the CCR website and donated some money to them. But first I wondered what other people had to say about them. Googling quickly turned up a stirring indictment of the organization (in the metaphorical rather than legal sense) which explains that CCR is a "fifth column law factory"—a Communist organization dedicated to overthrowing the US government and all that the US stands for. So consider yourself warned. (You may also be interested in a book by the author of that article: The Myths That Divide Us, which explains that "black-white relations are sabotaged by demagogues who mischaracterize our country as racist. . . . Perazzo demonstrates that the most serious social and economic problems currently afflicting black Americans are not due to societal racism but to issues within the black community.")

Hrm. Anyway, so the phrase "white-shoe law firms" stuck in my head; I figured it meant "rich," but I don't think I'd seen the term before. So I was rather startled to run across it again moments later in a New York Times article about Westchester county and its changing demographics that refers to "the county's old image as a bastion of white-shoe Republicans." So I poked around online to find out exactly what the phrase meant, and found two pages that explain it. A TrimTabs FAQ explains:

"White shoe" is the Wall Street phrase to describe corporate finance types. At the turn of the century the corporate finance types were the Street elite and wore white shoes since they never did anything that would get them dirty.

While a Daytrader FAQ says almost precisely the same thing, but with a twist:

A "white shoe" is a person employed in corporate finance. At the turn of the century those in corporate finance were the hoi poli and wore white shoes since they never did anything that would get them dirty.

But wait, there's more: in case you're wondering what "hoi poli" means, and whether it's any relation to the more common spelling "hoi polloi" (which refers to the masses of ordinary people, the general populace), that Daytrader FAQ helpfully explains:

Who are the Hoi Poli?
Pronounced "hoy pah loy" is a term referring to the hoity-toity in society
Who are the Hoity Toity?
Pronounced "hoy tea toy tea" is a term used with distain to refer to haughty pretentious people.

I wouldn't want to be hoity-toity about words or anything, so I'll refrain from further comment.

2 Responses to “Gitmo, white shoes, hoi polloi”

  1. Nick Mamatas

    Fun fact: my former boss once made the mistake of referring to his lawyer as coming from a whit shoe firm and got reamed for it by the attorney. Why? The lawyer was Jewish and the historical white shoe firms were anti-Semitic and would bar Jewish attorneys from high positions.

  2. John John

    White shoe doesn’t just refer to corporate firms specifically. I’ll say, with the danger of sounding like an ass, that I am very surprised that you hadn’t come across the phrase years earlier in reading and convo.

    “White shoes” refers to the era when white shoes were the rage among the younger set of the WASP social elite, especially those in the best colleges and universities. (It is to be imagined that maintaining white shoes in the Northeast was something that required effort, money and a certain lifestyle I suppose.) Thus “white shoe firms” was a reference to the the “white shoe crowd” that top firms recruited from, and not to the fashion habits of top firms or the firms themselves.


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