Posted by ESC on November 08, 2004
In Reply to: Dressed up to the nines posted by stan on November 08, 2004
: This site suggests that the derivation of this phrase concerns tailors and their work.
: Over twenty years ago I was taught that this phrase derived from a Middle English throwback to Anglo-Saxon, and that the phrase was a corruption of 'Dressed up to then eyenes' (sp?)which meant: 'Dressed up to the eyes' or fully kitted out in good clothing.
: Which is right?
Here are three theories from the archives:
"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).
"Dressed to the nines" is a shipping term from back when ships had 3 masts each with 3 primary yards. Usually not all in use - hence "the whole nine yards". Therefore, on very formal occasions or to celebrate a victory the ship would be in full sail or "dressed to the nines". For more info see yacht-volant.org/sailortalk/seaterms01.html
"TWO IDEAS,CUFF LINKS WERE CALLED" NINES",AND MANY FANCY DRESS SHIRTS HAVE NINE BUTTONS.