New Hampshire Slanguage: Rubbers

They are now typically made from latex, lycra, windtex and other modern water-proof materials

Are “rubbers” becoming a thing of the past?

First, lets deal with the origin of the name–“rubbers“.  They are made from rubber, and they come in pairs–nuff said.

In the New Hampshire ‘Slanguage‘ sense, what exactly are rubbers?
Answer: They are low overshoes, originally made from rubber, that stretch (with some difficulty I might add) and fit over a pair of regular shoes.  The intent of the rubbers is to keep low shoes dry in inclement weather. Note: once the overshoe becomes taller than your ankle it’s not called a rubber anymore–it becomes a boot, an overshoe, or a slip-on. You can call the taller ones anything you’d like, but not rubbers.

It seems that I remember a lot more people wearing rubbers back in the 50s and 60s than they do now.  Is this just my imagination?

My husband had a pair of rubbers when we got married.  They’ve sat in our hall closet gathering dust bunnies.  Each time we’ve moved, they’ve moved with us. There is something comforting to him in keeping them–like retaining a piece of a past life.  He really believes the day will come when he will suddenly need to wear them, and I will realize how lucky he was to keep them.  Even if they would fit me, I wouldn’t wear them.  I have a very bright pair of Zelda rain boots that I bought at Target (pronounced Tar-szhay). I can slip those on when I run amok, and pack my dress shoes to change into.  He routinely wears his “L.L. Beans” now, so I’m hoping the rubbers end up at our next yard sale.

Most of the waterproof shoe coverings I’ve seen recently are devised for the very dangerous world we now live in–for use in decontamination rooms, or to protect us from disgusting substances in the workplace.  You need to be prepared as one never knows when someone will accidentally spill a gallon of liquid paper.

Most of the shoes covers available are made from everything EXCEPT rubber. Perhaps that is a good reason for the few New Hampshirites who insist on calling them “rubbers” to call them something else.  Using terms like “waterproof shoe covers” or “overshoes” would be good.  In our modern age of prophylactic popularity, it sounds more dignified too.

I went looking for companies that made, or still make, rubber rubbers.  Interestingly I found one company in New Jersey. The company was started in 1896 by a Charles Tingley who traveled from New Jersey to Boston Massachusetts and beyond on his bicycle (yep, thats right) to sell his wares.

I could find no other evidence regarding early local producers of these items.  Therefore I tend to believe that Mr. Tingley is the person responsible for the New Hampshire term: “rubbers”–or at least for selling the product to us.

If you have another theory, let me know!


P.S.: One last thought–about overshoes.  What is the deal with people calling fictional locations “Left Overshoe” or “East Overshoe“?  When I was growing up, my father and grandparents used the term, “East Oshkosh” instead.

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