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Why Do We Say ‘to Boot’?

The kind of boot in the phrase "to boot," which essentially means "as an extra," has nothing to do with the boots you wear on your feet or the trunk of your car.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #636
a pair of boots

In a recent podcast, I said the phrase “an interesting bit of history to boot,” and I started to wonder why we use the phrase “to boot.” It’s kind of odd, right? Does it have to do with boots you wear on your feet? The trunk of a car, which is called a “boot” in Britain? I had to look it up!

'To Boot'

According to the Oxford English Dictionary and Online Etymology Dictionary it goes all the way back to the Old English word “bōt.” The word meant something like “advantage, help, and to make something good or better.” Eventually it also came to mean something extra or added into the bargain, as in this citation in the OED from the 1599 play “1st Part King Edward IV”:

What boote wouldst thou giue mee?

The boot was something good and extra, something thrown in for good measure, which is essentially what it still means in the phrase “to boot.” I explained a main point, and then I said you also get an extra story about history—“an interesting bit of history to boot.”

The Financing Boot

Doing that research reminded me of a word from finance that I encountered during my time in Silicon Valley. I had completely forgotten about this, but when you’re doing a round of financing such as an initial public offering, you might, for example, offer 10% of your company for $3 million, but such deals also often have a boot—an extra bit of your company that you’ll let the investment bankers sell if the offering is going really well. 

Buy Now

I didn't find that exact definition in any dictionaries, and all my attempts at Google searching got swamped out by stories about the Boot Barn IPO, employees getting the boot (getting fired), entrepreneurial boot camps, and so on, but I checked with a couple of people who have done such deals, and they confirmed that I’m remembering correctly. So that’s a specialized finance meaning of “boot,” possibly just jargon (possibly not widespread), that also goes back to the “extra” or “something special thrown in” meaning.

A second meaning in finance is something you add to a deal to make the exchange equal. For example, if you buy a car and trade in your old car and then also give the dealer some money, that extra money you add is called “the boot.”

These meanings of “boot” are from a completely different origin than the type of boot you wear on your feet, the part of a car where you put luggage, and the saying “give someone the boot,” which means someone has been fired or kicked out. All those meanings of “boot” ultimately go back to a word from Old French.   

'Booty'

Finally, I wondered whether the “extra or something special thrown in” meaning of “boot” was related to the word “booty” for pirates plunder, and it appears I’m not the only one to see a connection. Both the Oxford English Dictionary and Etymology Online say that “booty” does not come from the same origin as “boot.” It goes back to different Old French and Germanic words, but it was influenced by association with the word “boot” that means “extra or additional.”

So that’s a long (and I hope interesting) answer to my original question of why we say things like “…and an interesting bit of history to boot.”

Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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