What We Say: #6
The house is at sixes and sevens
from morning ’til night over the
child! I want some peace here, I
don’t care how, but one way we
won’t have it is by rushing up and
down the country every time someone
hears of a new quack.
–Captain Keller from the William Gibson play The Miracle Worker
This is the first, and perhaps only time I’ve heard the expression “sixes and sevens” used. Looking at context clues I figured it meant to be in some sort of disarray or confusion. Turns out I’m not too far from my figuring.
Apparently in Olde England, even going back to Chaucer’s time, there once existed a dice game that involved throwing the nearly impossible combination of sixes and sevens and was referred to as “on six and seven.” Eventually the phrase turned to “sixes and sevens” meaning the recklessness of trying for something that is difficult to obtain. Today it generally means to be in a state of confusion.
Although it is not a popular phrase today, at least I don’t hear it much, it does make sense. Its use is perfect in The Miracle Worker since it definitely describes the chaos that comes with having to cope with Helen Keller’s frantic and undisciplined state of behavior before Annie Sullivan arrives to become Teacher.
If a situation starts to get out of hand and sense can’t be found, I tend to say, “I can’t make heads nor tails of this!” or “This is crazy!” Saying the situation is “sixes and sevens” just doesn’t cut the mustard. for me.
Hmm, chasing quacks, making heads nor tails, cutting mustard…I have more research to do about What I Say.
It’s a phrase I’ve always used but I’ll start asking younger acquaintances about their familiarity with it.