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Posted by Smokey Stover on February 19, 2006

In Reply to: Coach-and-six posted by ESC on February 19, 2006

: : Coaches and Sixes

: : Reading in Joseph J Ellis's American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson... On Jefferson's arrival for his presidential inauguration,

: : "Most commentators emphasized the relative lack of pomp and pagentry and contrasted Jefferson's modest entourage with the coaches and sixes used by Washington and Adams at their respective inaugurations."

: : Is there more to learn of the derivation of "coaches and sixes" that the obvious coaches drawn by six horses? The meager efficiency of the phrase over its not too wordy meaning lead me to believe it entered the slang of the day for a possibly more intersting reason.

: Here is a bit more information from Brewer's online:

: E. Cobham Brewer 1810-1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
: Coach-and-four (or Coach-and-six).
: It is said one may drive a coach-and-four through an Act of Parliament, i.e. lawyers can always find for their clients some loophole of escape. 1
: "It is easy to drive a coach-and-four through wills, and settlements, and legal things."-H. R. Haggard.
: "[Rice] was often heard to say . that he would drive a coach and six horses through the Act of Settlement."-Welwood.

I think a previous response of mine disappeared into cyberspace. Or I forgot to press the button.
I don't think that Ellis has any subtext in his remarks about Jefferson vis-a-vis Washington and Adams. The reason H.Rider Haggard (of "She" and "King Solomon's Mines") and Mr. Welwood use the coach-and-four or coach-and-six as metaphors for something large is that they ARE large. Take a gander at the Budweiser beer truck being pulled by six huge Clydesdales. One of those would make anyone's inauguration look ostentatious. It's also rather thrilling, which is why people do it. True, most horses are not on the Clydesdale scale. But then, most coaches are more impressive than the Budweiser beer truck.

I don't think Ellis underplays the contrast between the showiness of Washington and Adams with their large coaches-and-six, and Jefferson shabbily going by shank's mare (figuratively only). That's the way Jefferson wanted it, but the public always likes a good show, as long as they can pretend someone else is paying for it.

In my opinion, we shouldn't call "coach-and-six" slang. It might have been an abbreviated form of nomenclature, but slangy it was not, any more than is "auto" for "automobile." SS