shoe·​string | \ ˈshü-ˌstriŋ How to pronounce shoestring (audio) \

Definition of shoestring

 (Entry 1 of 2)

2 [from shoestrings being a typical item sold by itinerant vendors] : a small sum of money : capital inadequate or barely adequate to the needs of a transaction started the business on a shoestring



Definition of shoestring (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : narrow and long like a shoestring shoestring french fries
2 : operating on, accomplished by, or consisting of a small amount of money or capital a shoestring budget

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Did You Know?


In earlier times, wandering peddlers offered townspeople a variety of items and trinkets, such as fabrics, embroidery materials, and even patent medicines. Another popular offering from these traveling salespeople was shoelaces. The fact that such vendors neither earned much money nor charged very much for their wares led to the connection of their literal shoestrings with a metaphorical application of "shoestring" to a very small amount of money. It's still not uncommon to hear of a business being operated on a shoestring (even if these days it's less likely that actual shoelaces are involved), but it's also possible to speak of "traveling on a shoestring" and even "gardening on a shoestring."

Examples of shoestring in a Sentence

Noun trying to start a business on a shoestring
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun But after the ball caromed off the hands of receiver Mohamed Sanu and was snagged off the shoestrings by linebacker Cory Littleton, Freeman directly engaged Donald by putting both hands on his facemask. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, "Falcons RB Devonta Freeman ejected for punching Rams' Aaron Donald, igniting skirmish," 20 Oct. 2019 The Harriot papers are a mishmash of calculations, marginal jottings, correspondence and even a shopping list (galls for ink, shoestrings, a ribbon for his dagger). Alan Hirshfeld, WSJ, "‘Thomas Harriot’ Review: A Genius in Eclipse," 21 June 2019 Strong was even the general contractor for Prairie, heading up the shoestring design and build, which features indigo plywood walls instead of expensive tile or wallpaper, plus a few of Rick Guidice’s cosmic prints. Leilani Marie Labong,, "Prairie chef gives gingerbread houses a midcentury modern turn," 29 Nov. 2019 Nothing comes easily for the Vikings (5-5, 3-3), who operate on a shoestring and play their home games in a suburban stadium nearly 14 miles from their downtown campus. oregonlive, "Goe: Montana overwhelms PSU, but the underdog Vikings insist they’re headed in the right direction," 3 Nov. 2019 And for any budding Thierry Frémaux operating on a tight budget, the smallest events can be launched, according to experts, on a shoestring and still turn a profit. Katie Kilkenny, The Hollywood Reporter, ""People Can Be Exploited": How Below-the-Radar Film Festivals Prey on Struggling Moviemakers," 31 Oct. 2019 On a recent carry, a defender dived at the legs of a fullback in front of Henderson and tried to make a shoestring tackle. Los Angeles Times, "Grace Brethren star Josh Henderson has decision to make on college," 10 Oct. 2019 Against Jacksonville, Marshall was mostly unbothered in pass coverage, and his best play was a shoestring tackle of Josh Robinson on a 2-yard punt return. Jonas Shaffer,, "Rising and falling: Eight Ravens on the move entering preseason game vs. Packers," 15 Aug. 2019 How about the production your local shoebox-opera organization has managed to mount on a shoestring? Anne Midgette,, "People are upset when an orchestra closes - if only they went to the concerts," 20 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective In Greater Cincinnati, a mighty, mostly volunteer needle-exchange effort on a shoestring budget started in 2014. Terry Demio, USA TODAY, "Covering the opioid epidemic: Despair, bravery, helplessness, iron will and too much death," 15 Dec. 2019 In Greater Cincinnati, a mighty, mostly volunteer needle-exchange effort on a shoestring budget started in 2014. Terry Demio, USA TODAY, "Covering the opioid epidemic: Despair, bravery, helplessness, iron will and too much death," 15 Dec. 2019 In Greater Cincinnati, a mighty, mostly volunteer needle-exchange effort on a shoestring budget started in 2014., "Covering the opioid epidemic: Despair and bravery, helplessness, iron will and way too much death," 12 Dec. 2019 Founder Stephanie Bowman, who relies on a small army of volunteers and a shoestring budget, said the donations that come over the next five weeks are what sustains organizations such as hers. Kate Santich,, "Where to find free turkeys, meals for Thanksgiving in greater Orlando," 22 Nov. 2019 Kaline tried for a shoestring catch or a trap but failed both ways. Gene Myers, Detroit Free Press, "65 years ago, Tigers legend Al Kaline threw a runner out — from his butt," 10 Aug. 2019 The group that has brought the Dutch construction and agriculture sectors to a standstill is a tiny non-profit, Mobilisation for the Environment (MOB), that operates on a shoestring budget with seven staff. The Economist, "A tiny environmental group wins a huge victory," 26 Oct. 2019 Outdoors, the most renowned display is the Granma, the yacht Fidel and his 81 followers used to crash-land on the Cuban coast in 1956 and start their shoestring rebellion. Tony Perrottet, WSJ, "A Weirdly Fascinating Cold-War Tour of Havana," 20 Nov. 2018 But as the British colony grew rich over the following decades, so did Cathay, transforming from a swashbuckling shoestring operation into a carrier of regional, then international, renown. Raymond Zhong, New York Times, "Cathay Pacific, Icon of Hong Kong’s Rise, Now Reflects China’s Grip," 11 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'shoestring.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of shoestring


1616, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1859, in the meaning defined at sense 2

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Time Traveler for shoestring

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The first known use of shoestring was in 1616

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Last Updated

10 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Shoestring.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 23 January 2020.

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More Definitions for shoestring


How to pronounce shoestring (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of shoestring

informal : a small amount of money


shoe·​string | \ ˈshü-ˌstriŋ How to pronounce shoestring (audio) \

Kids Definition of shoestring

More from Merriam-Webster on shoestring

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for shoestring

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with shoestring

Comments on shoestring

What made you want to look up shoestring? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


out of the ordinary or unreasonable

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