Even the most well-versed man of style can still learn something new. Case in point: a cordwainer is not a cobbler. A cobbler is not a cordwainer. It’s an important distinction. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be using the word in polite company…
As you surely remember, last week we interviewed Maine’s new hotshot shoemaker, Kyle Rancourt. In the title, we proclaimed him a rising star in the cobbling world. As a reader kindly pointed out, Kyle is a cordwainer (the traditional term for a shoemaker), not a cobbler (the traditional term for a shoe repairman). It’s a subtle distinction and one that’s been eroding over time—now that big labels often outsource their lines entirely, and most off-the-shelf shoes aren’t worth repairing—people forgot who was doing what when it came to their footwear.
We’ll probably stick to “shoemaker” in casual conversation (and writing), but the next time we’re looking for a quirky turn of phrase from the past, rest assured “cordwainer” is high on the list.