At sixes and sevens

Goosestep this way….

Dear WD: Is it true that the phrase “At sixes and sevens” — meaning at odds with each other — comes from the seating arrangement used for meetings of the London Guilds? (Please note how I cleverly avoided any Andrew Lloyd Weber references in this question. Do you realize what a temptation it was to type: “I may not be dressed up to the nines, but I am at sixes and sevens with myself over the origin of this phrase.” Nope! Argentina doesn’t cry for me!) — Pamela Van Nest.

I’m going to throw caution to the winds here and hazard a guess that you’re asking this question because you’ve just seen the recent Madonna-enhanced film version of “Evita” and the phrase “at sixes and sevens” occurs somewhere in the dialogue of said film. Yes, I’m psychic, and no, I have not seen and do not plan to see “Evita” myself, although the (dare I say it?) inspired choice of Madonna to play the pseudo-populist Nazi sympathizer Eva Peron does have a certain twisted charm to it. But don’t cry for me, Marge and Tina, I’ll get by just fine sitting home with something a bit more realistic. Such as “Baywatch.”

Now that we’ve settled that (go forth and Lloyd Weber no more, my child), I’m wondering where you heard that story about the London Guilds. In any case, the phrase “at sixes and sevens,” which we use to mean “confused” or “at odds with someone” originally came from gambling with dice. As first used by Chaucer in “The Canterbury Tales” around 1374, “to set on six and seven” meant to risk your entire fortune on the unlikely chance that a single roll of the dice would produce a high score. Only later on did the phrase come to describe a person who would be sufficiently confused or rash to make such a bet, and, still later, to mean disorder or disagreement.

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