Café Crem

Art, Music and Words around The Coffee Table

Nines, and their place in Proverbia

A stitch in time and Dressed up to the Nines

Make no mistake, the number nine turns up everywhere in our quotations and sayings.

“The whole nine yards” – an americanism I think, but surely derived from

“Dressed up to the Nines” which, meaning to be dressed flamboyantly and to one’s absolute immaculate best, is supposedly referring to the generous nine yards of cloth required to tailor a superlative outfit, waste being no barrier to achieving the greatest result. It also has several other possible derivations. One, from Shakespeare’s time, hints that the best seats in the playhouse, by the stage, were 9 pence, and one had to dress accordingly if one sat in them. A further contender is to be found in Naval lore; one’s dress uniform was commonly known as “eights” and its thought by many that “dressing to the nines” was going one better.

“A stitch in time saves nine” very probably only utilises the word “nine” to achieve a certain assonance and make the saying more memorable, but it is clearly extolling the virtues of fixing a small problem now, to avoid greater problems later.

“I’m on cloud nine” , used to denote when someone is euphoric is further proof that nine figures greatly in proverbs and sayings. Does this mean that it’s two better than seventh heaven? I’ll leave that to the mathematicians!

Kev Moore


February 8, 2008 - Posted by | Art, Cafe L'Arte, culture, drawing, Kev Moore's Cartoons, life, Proverbs and Sayings, writing | , , ,


  1. Wow thank you Kev!!
    These are great, I use them all the time, but never really contemplated the stories behind these sayings..

    Youre proving very educational!

    Comment by supersizeme | February 8, 2008

  2. I KNEW there was a use for me, could never put my finger on it though! 🙂

    Comment by kevmoore | February 8, 2008

  3. Aren’t numbers just grand! Wonderful, Kev, to find so many about the number nine (hey, isn’t that number in a song, too?).

    Maybe Miki could help you with the math on your last phrase 🙂

    Comment by shelleymhouse | February 8, 2008

  4. Hi Shelley! Now you’ve really got me thinking! Here’s a few songs with nine off the top of my head…
    Revolution No.9 -The Beatles
    Number 9 dream – John Lennon
    Emergency 999-The Alan Bown Set
    Nine Lives-Aerosmith

    and not forgetting a group I toured with-
    Cloud Nine by Saxon

    Plus a couple that stretch it a bit (!)
    One after 909 -Beatles
    19th nervous Breakdown-Rolling Stones

    phew! anyone know anymore?

    Comment by kevmoore | February 8, 2008

  5. The route 66! but you have to turn them upside down!

    Four and seven are also interesting in sayings! Some are used where you use the 9! Etre tire a 4 epingles! Sunt in al 7 lea cer = Je suis dans le septieme ciel! = I’m on cloud nie!)

    Comment by iondanu | February 8, 2008

  6. HAHA! Route 66! nice one Danu, which of course has just reninded me of the Hendrix classic “If 6 were 9”

    Comment by kevmoore | February 8, 2008

  7. ….”back in the summer of 69…”
    ..ermm.. cats have 9 lives?
    Im born in september, the 9th month!

    Your devastatingly clever.. watch out maths-whizz Miki!!

    Comment by supersizeme | February 9, 2008

  8. Great entry Kevin, like always I love your illustration!
    In German too a cat has 9 lives!
    And I guess a Pakistani cat like you has much more than 9 lives!

    The corresponding in French to the “Dressed up to the Nines” is:
    “se mettre sur son 31”
    The origine of this expression is mysterious there re different possibilities.
    One being that 31 might haven been the forgotten number of a military ceremony uniform.
    Another one is that it could come from an ancient card game by which to reach 31 was the best thing!

    In German we have the expression:
    “Ein Wunder dauert nur neun Tage”
    A wonder lasts but nine days.
    I guess it means a wonder doesn’t last long, perhaps even meaning that wonders don’t exist?

    “Neun Schneider machen einen Mann”
    Nine tailors make a man.
    It comes from the story of a poor boy who became rich starting to invest the 9 shillings given to him by 9 tailors, and reinvest the profit and so on.

    Comment by Miki | February 9, 2008

  9. Ah! A Nine Days wonder! We have this expression in English, too, Miki, curiously enough, evidence shows it was imported into Britain by a Frenchman, Charles, The Duke of Orleans.The earliest record in print that most people today would be able to decipher is in ‘Poems written in English during his captivity in England, after the battle of Agincourt’ 1465:

    “For this a wondir last but dayes nyne, An oold proverbe is seid.”

    It has manifested itself in other forms in modern times, such as the self-deprectaing moniker for a number of bands: “One-hit wonder”

    Comment by kevmoore | February 9, 2008

  10. NINE comments before mine 😉

    How about:

    ‘Love Potion Number 9’

    Can’t forget that with Valentine’s Day round the corner!!

    Comment by Bonny | February 10, 2008

  11. I’m really glad to know about the origin of “dressed to the nines.” This is one I’ll have to share with my kids at school.

    Madame Monet

    Comment by wpm1955 | February 10, 2008

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