This phrase probably derives from dice games, and seems to have developed from a 14 century idiom set on cinque and sice. S originally the numbers were not six and seven but five and six,and the expression was used in connection with the elements of chance and luck in human life, rather than disorder or disagreement.
There is a far more colourful theory of the origin of the phrase, though its historical accuracy is questionable. Two of the Livery Companies (originally the craft Guild) of the City of London had a longstanding quarrel over their order of precedence. The Skinners and Merchant Taylors both founded in 1327, ranked sixth and seventh in priority among the guilds, but which was sixth and seventh? in ceremonial processions, the two groups were at sixes an d sevens over the right to he sixth position, and the ensuing fights no doubt had the whole parade at sixes and sevens. In 1484 a settlement was eventually enforced by the Lord Mayor of London and his aldermen: the officials of both guilds were to entertain each other annually to dinner and the companies were to take turns year by year at sixth position in processions.

Britain’s history as a sea faring nation has left its mark on modern English language. Dozens of common idioms have their source in shipboard life during the age of sail: in the same boat, at the helm, to run a tight ship, on the rocks, to keep things on an even keel, and so on.
Slightly less obvious are the phrases on the wrong tack (referring to an upwind course) to know the ropes referring to the rigging of s sailing ship) and to give someone a wide berth (or to give him some leeway or to steer clear of him). Sometimes the link to sailing has become fairly obscure. To describe someone as broad in the beam, for example, is to refer in fact to the beam of a ship – that is its point of greatest width.
Hard and Fast generally applied these days to a rule, was said of a ship that was stuck fast through being stranded. And touch and go probably originally meant coming near to being stranded- to scrape the keel in shallow water. The phrase by and large too is nautical in origin- to sail by and large in a sailing ship was to sail at a slight angle to the wind. Perhaps this was a “by and large”a safe and effective way of sailing the direction of an oncoming wind, the phrase came to be used in this more general sense. To sail close to the wind, by contrast was more risky business – it was to steer as near to head on as possible to the oncoming wind. Hence the general sense of the expression today to take risks, or to verge on the irregular or illegal. The risk was that a slight shift in the wind might suddenly press the sails back against the mast, causing the ship to lose it stability and be taken aback, or taking the wind from its sails – two more nautical expressions that have passed into general used . If everything is going well, you might say tat all is plain sailing; that is navigating by means of a simple plan chart, based on the assumption that the earth is flat or a plane. If things go badly, you,on the other hand, you might be on your beam ends – the beams were the diagonal struts across the ship , to buttress the keel so when a ship was on her beam ends, she was tilted over on her side and wAS in danger of capsizing.
Rather less reliably, the two phrases the devil to pay and between the devil and the deep blue sea have been raced back to the days of sail. When anticipating trouble, people sometimes say”There’s going to be the devil to pay. A longer version of the idiom, rarely heard these days is “The devil to pay and no pitch hot”, suggesting a lack of preparation for some important task. The devil here is seam between the planks on the side of a ship. And to pay such a seam is to smear it with tar.

I hope you have enjoyed the above after all we are all boat people of sorts!! \

Hugh Ed.

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