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Sneakers vs. Tennis Shoes vs. Trainers

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How do you refer to rubber-soled athletic shoes? Are they sneakers or tennis shoes? Something else, like trainers? When canvas shoes with soft rubber soles came into use, they were so quiet compared to wood-soled shoes that one could literally sneak about. Outside the Northeast, tennis shoe is the more common term. This is part of a complete episode.

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  • When I grew up in New York City in the 1950s, there was quite a distinction between sneakers and tennis shoes. In school gym classes, we were required to wear sneakers and were not allowed to wear tennis shoes. By sneakers, they referred to a high-topped rubber-soled shoe. The high tops had a black canvass upper that laced to support your ankle. Tennis shoes were white with low tops that had no ankle support. Because of the lack of ankle support, sneakers were required for games like basketball, thus making tennis shoes rare as few kids could afford two pairs of play shoes. Perhaps if you grew up in an Annie Hall community where tennis was the local sport, then tennis shoes would be the norm and be indistinguishable from sneakers in the local jargon.

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