Q: Where does the phrase "dressed to the nines" come from?
A: That saying, which basically means you're really decked out in your best attire, could have something to do with the amount of material needed to make a suit, according to the site The Phrase Finder (phrases.org/uk).
Tailors used 9 yards of material to make a suit or shirt, so it would stand to reason that the more material you had in you outfit, the better the attire that resulted.
Having said that, 9 yards seems like an awful lot of material for one outfit. I don't care if you're Shaquille O'Neal.
So there's another possible explanation the site provides. A British regiment called The 99th (Lanarkshire) Regiment of Foot, was known for "exquisitely smart uniforms," according to the site.
The first example the site finds of the saying in print is in Samuel Fallows' "The Progressive Dictionary of the English Language, 1835." Fallows has an entry under "to the nines" and uses "dressed to the nines" as an example. The book suggests the saying could derive from "to thine eynes," which translates into "to the eyes."
Still, The Phrase Finder states it isn't convinced about these possibilities, because there were prior uses of phrases "to the nine" and "to the nines," which date back to the 1700s. The site found one dating to 1719.
The website cites another possibility. There were characters drawn from history known as "The Nine Worthies."
According to the site, "This distinguished group consisted of Hector, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabaeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon. These were well-known to mediaeval scholars as the personification of all that was noble and heroic. Also, classical mythology has given us the Nine Muses of Arts and Learning — Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania and Melpomene."
One final thing: The Phrase Finder points out the number nine, itself, is a popular digit when it comes to various phrases.
It cites several examples such as cloud nine, nine days' wonder and, of course, the whole nine yards.
Staff Writer Bernie Delinski writes Just Ask, which runs Wednesdays in the Times Daily. If you've got a question, email it to bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.