know shit from Shinola

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A colloquialism which dates back to the early 1940s in the United States, sometimes ended with "that's why your shoes don't shine". Shinola was a popular brand of shoe polish.


know shit from Shinola (third-person singular simple present knows shit from Shinola, present participle knowing shit from Shinola, simple past knew shit from Shinola, past participle known shit from Shinola)

  1. (stative, US, vulgar, chiefly in the negative) To have the most basic level of intelligence or common sense.
    • 30 October 1973, George Carlin, "Filthy Words", WBAI Radio, quoted in FCC Reports, Second Series, Volume 56, October 31, 1975 to January 16, 1976, page 101:
      "He don't know shit from Shinola. (laughter) you know that? Always wondered how the Shinola people felt about that (laughter) Hi, I'm the new man from Shinola. (laughter) Hi, how are ya? Nice to see ya? (laughter) How are ya? (laughter)"
    • 1974 August, S. George Pesare, “You Don't Know From Shoe Polish!”, in Black Belt Magazine, issue, pg. 10:
      "I'd like to comment on your May editorial, "Who's In Charge Here?" You may be a fair journalist, but you don't know shit from Shinola when it comes to karate."
    • 1995, Michael Ward, Why your corporate culture change isn't working-- and what to do about it, page 102:
      "Laura looked at him coolly, levelly. 'Frank,' she said softly, 'the information simply isn't there. Therefore the control can't be there either. So don't try to con me. You don't know shit from Shinola!'"
    • 1996, Kenneth M. Ford, Zenon W. Pylyshyn, The robot's dilemma revisited: the frame problem in artificial intelligence, page 28:
      "See what I mean Shiela? You've got the logical form, the semantics, and all that, but you don't know shit from Shinola, and with your stupid heuristic learner you can't learn it unless somebody with authority tells you."

Usage notes[edit]

  • Almost always used in negative constructions to describe someone's ignorance or stupidity, such as: He doesn't know shit from Shinola.