‘the order of the boot’: meaning and origin

The humorous phrase the order of the boot and its variants denote dismissal from employment.

Here:
– The image underlying the boot is of kicking somebody out—cf. also to give the sack.
– The phrase puns on two acceptations of the noun order: a) an authoritative command; b) an institution founded for the purpose of honouring meritorious conduct—cf. also the coinage of the exclamation OMG.

 

THE NOBLE ORDER OF THE BOOT

 

The earliest occurrences of the phrase that I have found are—as the noble order of the boot—from The Sporting Times (London, England):

1-: Of Saturday 6th May 1882:

We want to see the family standard of Waldeck Pyrmont. Any person producing the same at our office, and guaranteeing the safety of the over-worked brains of the staff, on such production will be suitably rewarded—with the noble order of the boot.

2-: Of Saturday 10th June 1882:

Queen’s Birthday.—What ought to be conferred on Mr. Parnell 1 and Co.? The Noble Order of the Boot.

1 Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) was an Irish nationalist leader.

3-: Of Saturday 17th June 1882:

It occurs to the great mind of Blobbs 2 on Wednesday to telegraph to Master and ask for a week’s holiday. If Blobbs can stay over the week we all will. We anxiously await Master’s reply. It arrives:—
From J. Corlett 3, 52, Fleet Street 4, London.
To P. Blobbs, St. Enoch’s Hotel, Glasgow.
“I don’t know what the deuce you are doing in Glasgow at all, but if you are not here on Friday you will know what I am doing. Did you ever hear of a proprietor investing a contributor with the noble Order of the Boot?”

2 Peter Blobbs was the pen name of the English journalist Reginald Shirley Walkinshaw Brooks (1854-1888).
3 John Corlett, who founded The sporting Times in 1865, was also its editor and proprietor.
4 The offices of The Sporting Times were at 52, Fleet Street, London.

4-: Of Saturday 26th August 1882:

It is time for us to be off.
We are off. It is in somewhat doubtful taste for the people of Portsmouth to denominate the last point seen by voyagers as the Kicker. It is less suggestive of pathetic partings from the girls we leave behind us than of abrupt flight occasioned on our being invested with the noble order of the boot.

An early Australian-English use of the noble order of the boot occurs, for example, in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Queensland) of Wednesday 25th March 1891:

In the Supreme Court yesterday afternoon […] Gilbert Stephen Casey, a labour organiser, sought to recover £2,500 damages from the defendant, Ebenezer Thorne, a journalist, for defamatory statements published in the Judge.
[…]
The libel set forth in the statement of claim was that on or about October 19, 1890, defendant, in a copy of the Judge, falsely and maliciously printed the following words: “Many thousand years ago, in the land of Strikemania, there dwelt a sprightly but idle tram-cleaner (meaning the plaintiff). This virtuous party rejoiced in the name of Curtis, and pending [sic] the job of tramcar-cleaning, too arduous for a man (meaning the plaintiff) who was, generally speaking, too tired to wash his own face, he accepted the noble order of the boot and sallied out to seek his fortune as an organiser or organ grinder, or something. [&c.]”

 

TO PRESENT SOMEBODY WITH THE ORDER OF THE BOOT

 

Among various grammatical constructions, to present somebody with the order of the boot occurs, for example, in:

1-: The Sporting Life (London, England) of Thursday 18th March 1886:

The law’s delay interferes with the representation of the highly intelligent borough—or what is it electorally?—of Stepney, and the question as to whether Ipswich is to retain the precious services of Jesse, the comrade and helper of Joseph, has yet to be determined. It was rumoured on Friday night that Jesse had been presented with the order of the boot, but Saturday’s papers showed that the report was devoid of foundation.

2-: The Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, New South Wales) of Saturday 14th December 1889:

An Australian Champion in England.—To past and present amateur cycling champions of New South Wales the following par from Wheeling will no doubt be of interest:
Birmingham cyclists generally may not be aware what a celebrity of the wheel they have been entertaining during the past week. It seems that an Australian racing man, whose name has not transpired, is making a tour of the world, chiefly it would appear on foot. The gentleman had an interview with the hon. sec. of a local club one afternoon last week, during the course of which the traveller volunteered the information that he was amateur champion of New South Wales, and had frequently beaten Busst [sic] and other antipodean cracks. He also said that he had just that moment arrived in Birmingham, having come from Liverpool on foot on account of the lowness of the funds. The soft-hearted official was just on the point of being persuaded by these eloquent appeals, when another member of the club happened to drop in, who had “listened to our tale of woe” from the same person a few days before with all interesting particulars about the arrival that day on foot from Liverpool and the rest of it all complete. The Australian champion was, of course, quickly presented with the order of the boot; and other club secretaries would do well to take warning lest their charity be imposed upon.

3-: In No. 1.—The Literary Gentleman’s Story. “How Beefeater Won the Derby. Part I., by ‘Francis Flipperly’, published in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Queensland) of Saturday 27th September 1890:

When I went out I left Sir George’s letter (by accident, of course) on the mantelpiece.
Result.
My landlord, an ex-butler, who, if he is to be believed, has lived in some of the ’ighest of famblies, makes me a low bow when I enter his house, and begs my acceptance of a few flowers he had just had sent him from the country.
Oh! what a hollow and sycophantish world it is we live in!
Fancy being fawned upon—grovelled to, because one is in correspondence with a live baronet.
That is what it means—this sudden abasement of my landlord. And—h’m—yes, the feeling is not altogether an unpleasant one, possibly because I have been rather a stranger to that sort of thing of late years. I am no longer five feet seven in height but six foot (in my own estimation at least), and I accept the landlord’s flowers with such a condescending, insolent air, that I cannot help wondering afterwards why he did not then and there present me with the noble Order of the Boot. I am sure had I been in his place, that is what I should have done.

 

OTHER GRAMMATICAL CONSTRUCTIONS

 

Among other grammatical constructions, to receive the order of the boot occurs, for example, in the Magpie: A Bristol Journal of Satire, Wit, and Criticism (Bristol, Bristol, England) of Saturday 7th January 1888:

THE PRINCE’S PANTOMIME.
L.C.B.’s complete Guide.

Once again have travelling companies of players received the Order of the Boot to make room for the Messrs. Chutes’ annual budget of fun, frolic, and frivolity, to the joy and delight of many who dearly love this yearly digression from the paths of serious drama.

And the following is from Truth (London, England) of Thursday 7th August 1890:

Within the last month I have published one or two comments on the question why the “Suakin 1884 5” clasp should have been withheld from all the men who went through the horrors of the Suakin siege in 1884, except those who held the Egyptian medal of 1882. The Army Nary Gazette has since published a letter on the same subject. This apparently explains the following communication which I find in my letter-box this week:—
[…]
“Dear Truth,—You are a brick, and no mistake. Your example has even fired one of the dear old Service papers to insert a complaint against the scandalous partiality and favouritism shown over the Suakin clasps. You know, of course, how your Service contemporaries are muzzled. The Horse Guards people make it their business to find out who writes for them, and when that is done, the only clasp or reward for which the writer who says anything unpleasant need look is “the order of the boot,” or a paid passage to Bermuda.”
I was not aware, until my correspondent kindly enlightened me, of the precise method adopted for saving Pall Mall and the Horse Guards from the inconvenience of an independent Service press. Now that I have been told, however, I readily believe it, and with this knowledge before me, I shall redouble my efforts to give my Service correspondents a fair hearing in Truth. Fortunately, no writer who favours me with his views need be under any apprehension of receiving “the order of the boot, or a free passage to Bermuda.”

5 The first Suakin Expedition was a military expedition that had taken place in 1884 with the intention of destroying the power of the Sudanese military commander Osman Digna and his troops during the Mahdist War, i.e., the war against Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah (1844-1885), who claimed to be the Mahdi (in popular Muslim belief, the leader who will rule before the end of the world and restore religion and justice).