Nine Tailors Make a Man

From Wikipedia:

“The Nine Tailors is a 1934 mystery novel by the British writer Dorothy L. Sayers, her ninth featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The story is set in the Lincolnshire Fens, and revolves around a group of bell-ringers at the local parish church. The book has been described as Sayers’ finest literary achievement

The Nine Tailors of the book’s title are taken from the old saying “Nine Tailors Make a Man”, which Sayers quotes at the end of the novel. As explained by John Shand in his 1936 Spectator article The Bellringers’ Art, “‘Nine Tailors’ means the nine strokes which at the beginning of the toll for the dead announce to the villagers that a man is dead. A woman’s death is announced with ‘Six Tailors’. Hence the old saying … which might otherwise be construed as a slander on a worthy profession”.”

From: Thirty-Two Years of Local Self-Government 1855-1887 (1888), by Rowley W. C. Richardson:

“In this book I have endeavoured to describe Surbiton as it was before the passing of the Improvement Act in June 1855; to give a record of the work which has since been done, and to represent the condition of the district in June last. The results of the important step which was taken in establishing independent existence in 1855 are thus traced up to the completion of the thirty-two years of self-government…

…The practice of tolling the bell to announce the death of a parishioner is maintained at Christ Church–the knell for a man being three times three; for a boy, twice three; for a woman, three times two; and for a girl, twice two.

The expression, ” Nine tailors make a man, ,” is supposed to have originated from the number of strokes given in ringing the death-knell. The following appears on this subject in “Folk Etymology,” by the Rev. A. Smythe Palmer:

” ‘Tailors, nine make a man,’ said to be a corruption of ‘Nine tailers (itself corrupted from ‘tellers’) make it a man;’ i.e. nine counting strokes at the end of a knell proclaim the death of a male adult. An old homily for Trinity Sunday declares that at the death of a man three bells were to be rung as his knell, and two bells for a woman (Hampson, ‘Med. vi Kalend, 294’). It is observable that Taylor, the Water Poet, has a version of the phrase conformable to this, speaking of ‘the slander that three taylers are one man’ (‘Works,’ 1630, iii. 73).”

In Brewer’s ” Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” it is stated that ” an orphan lad, in 1742, applied to a fashionable London tailor for alms. There were nine journeymen in the establishment, each of whom contributed something to set the little orphan boy up with a fruit-barrow. The little merchant in time became rich, and adopted for his motto, ‘Nine tailors make a man.’ “

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