Posted by ESC on January 28, 2003
In Reply to: 'Dressed to the nines' posted by Raphael Mankin on January 28, 2003
: As I understand it, the phrase 'dressed [up to] the nines' is Royal Naval. There are nine levels of dress from number 1 (dirty dungarees for cleaning the boilers) to number 9 (very formal occasions). At least so I am told by a Naval brother-in-law.
There are several theories. To access them, search the archives under "nines." Here's one theory:
"dressed to the nines means dressed in a very elaborate fashion. One of the great word sleuths of all time, Walter Wilson Skeat, thought that the expression originally must have been 'dressed to the eyes.' The way it might have appeared in Old English would have been: 'To the eyne.' It's very easy to see how that could have been transformed into 'to the nines.'" From the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (second edition, copyright 1977, 1988. HarperCollins).