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At Sixes and Sevens

Not a phrase you hear much nowadays, but I can remember my Grandmother using it quite often, “Oh you’ll have me at sixes and sevens if you don’t get from under my feet!

I’d never really queried its origin until recently. I was researching for a new walking tour, looking into the history of what are known in the City of London as Worshipful Companies, these are Livery Companies associated with a certain trade or profession. Some of the earliest ones were set up in the 1300s when they received their Royal Charters.

Two of these are The Merchant Taylors and the Skinners, who have long disputed their precedence in the order of companies that today amount to 110. So once a year whenever Easter falls in the calendar they swap between sixth and seventh places.

The Skinners Company (L) & The Merchant Taylors Company (R)

This mix-up is a favourite theory for the origin of the phrase “at sixes and sevens” and one I was happy enough to take onboard adding it to my tour text.

However the following day while continuing my research (Never a minutes rest at A London Miscellany Tours) I was reading some background on Geoffrey Chaucer and came across a mention of a line in one of his plays, written in 1374 he writes “Lat nat this wrechched wo thyn herte gnawe, But manly set the world on sexe and seuene.” The phrase was originally “to set on six and seven” and is thought to have derived from the game of dice. The meaning then was ‘to carelessly risk one’s entire fortune’.

Both very plausible, and luckily for me can be included in the same tour, so I think i’ll alternate between each one and see what reaction I get before choosing a favourite.

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