Posted by Bookworm on December 19, 2003
In Reply to: Sixes and Sevens posted by James Briggs on December 19, 2003
: : I've tried any number of places but I can't find the origin of "by sixes and sevens" or "halved by sixes and sevens". It's driving me crazy! I'm not even sure how to use the expression properly.
: Here's what I've found out over the years. There may be other explanations!
: If someone is at sixes and sevens then they are in a quandary; they don't quite know what to do next. The saying originates from a situation in 1327 and relates to the Guilds of Tradesmen in the City of London. The Merchant Taylors and the Skinners were founded within a few days of each other, five other Guilds having already received their charters. The age of each Guild dictated its position in the Lord Mayor's procession. The Merchant Taylors and the Skinners argued for fifty years as to which should go sixth in the procession. In the end, in 1494, Sir Robert Billesden, the current Lord Mayor, decreed that they should take it in turns to go sixth and seventh.
: An alternative explanation that the saying has something to do with throwing dice is much less likely, and far less romantic.
I always thought that to be at sixes and sevens was to be in a state of chaos. Here is a snippet from Thackeray's Vanity Fair:
"They won't give 'em up," said the man; "there's a regular shinty in the house, and everything at sixes and sevens. The landlord's come in and took possession.