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At sixes and seven

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  • At sixes and sevens is an idiom that has been in the English language for approximately nine hundred years, though the meaning has changed. We will look at the definition of the phrase at sixes and sevens, where the term possibly comes from, how it has changed, and some current examples of its use in sentences.

    The idiom at sixes and sevens means in a state of complete disarray and confusion, in a complete mess. At sixes and sevens may also mean a state of disagreement between two or more people. The term at sixes and sevens goes back at least to the 1300s. Originally, the phrase was rendered on six and seven, and referred to a dice game where throwing on a six or seven meant risking one’s entire fortune. Until the 1600s, on sixes and sevens meant to take a careless risk. In the mid-1600s, the term on sixes and sevens took a slight turn to at sixes and sevens, and acquired the meaning of a state of confusion. Most probably, the belief that someone had to be severely confused to risk his stake on sixes and sevens translated into the idiom meaning a general state of confusion.

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    Examples

    Sensing Stotherts were still at sixes and sevens, the visitors belied their lowly league position to press hard and cross through Gosling. (The Bath Chronicle)

    The ship faced a mild sea storm the very next day, which had the maharaja terrified and the crew at sixes and sevens. (The Mumbai Mirror)

    THE media in Scotland were all at sixes and sevens yesterday when it was announced that the much-mooted “Scottish Six” news programme would be on a “wrong” channel and be at 7pm. (The National)

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