Phrase used to refer to a shoe-shiner, i.e. one who shines shoes as a service profession. Often used as an example of a menial-labor position near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, some shoe-shine boys have an opportunity to interact directly with with members of bourgeoisie. As implied by the phrase, child laborers are sometimes employed as shoe-shine boys.

Various accounts exist of people rising from shoe-shine boys to positions of power and importance.

As a teenager, Malcolm X worked as a shoe-shine boy at the Roseland Ballroom in Boston, giving him the opportunity to see most of the jazz giants of the 1930s.

Former senior Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York was a shoe-shine boy in Manhattan at age fourteen.

A shoe-shone boy was the topic of the song "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy", originally made famous by Red Foley in the 1950s.

shoe-shine boy (idea)

A mostly-passive role within a problem-solving method. A person trying to solve a complex problem may try to talk through the problem with someone who has little or no subject-matter knowledge (the shoe-shine boy). Through the course of explaining the problem, along with some surrounding context, the person presenting the problem will often discover the solution by his or herself. Although the shoe-shine boy may not contribute anything directly to solving the problem, he allows the problem-solver to put thoughts into words. The activity of presenting the problem, even to someone who does not understand the presentation, forces the problem-solver to explicitly organize and think about all of the individual issues. Sometimes naive comments made the shoe-shine boy will trigger lines of thought or inspire thinking outside the box.

Unlike problem-solving techniques involving a fresh set of eyes or a sounding board, employing a shoe-shine boy does not require finding someone else who understands the context or subject area. In many cases, putting thoughts down into words will have similar results.

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