At sixes and sevens: phrases with numbers

Mohd Khairil Majid/EyeEm/GettyImages

by Liz Walter

My last two posts have covered phrases containing the numbers one and two. Today I am going to look at phrases with some higher numbers. There are a lot of them, so I am just picking out some that I think will be generally useful, but as always, please feel free to suggest others in the comments.

I’ll start with the phrase in the title of this post. If a person, place or situation is at sixes and sevens, it is in a state of confusion or disorganization. The American phrase a three-ring circus also describes a confused situation and emphasizes that a lot of things are happening at the same time:

We only moved in last week, so we’re still at sixes and sevens.

My life felt like a three-ring circus at that time.

Six seems to be a popular number for phrases! If you are talking about which of two people is to blame for something and say it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, you mean that they are equally at fault. Saying that someone is six feet under is a humorous way of saying that they are dead, and in UK (but not US) English, if something knocks you for six, it surprises and upsets you to a very great degree:

Matt said that Francis insulted him, but if you ask me, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

By the time that tree is grown, we’ll all be six feet under.

The collapse of his company really knocked him for six.

There are two nice number phrases for being extremely happy: on cloud nine and in seventh heaven:

I was on cloud nine when I got the letter offering me the job.

After a delicious meal, we sat in the warm garden. We were in seventh heaven.

I will finish with some very high numbers. If you describe something as the sixty-four thousand dollar question or the million dollar question, you mean that it is a difficult and important question, but nobody knows the answer. If you look/feel (like) a million dollars (UK & US)/bucks (US), you look or feel very attractive. Thanks a million is a strong way of saying thank you. However, it is often used sarcastically:

How do you get your teenagers to talk to you? That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question!

She was wearing a new dress and she looked a million dollars.

You told Karen I’d cook for everyone? Well, thanks a million!

18 thoughts on “At sixes and sevens: phrases with numbers

  1. Sadanandam Kasarla

    Great learning experience…Added the new phrases to my memory… More shining to my English….Thanks a million…

  2. Bernard Glassman

    I’m sure this is not an original observation: It would be great if you could include the origin of at least some of these phrases. “$64,000 Question” was a TV quiz show, for example. “Six feet under” is the traditional depth for a grave, meant to discourage grave-robbers. That sort of thing. Love reading your contributions, none the less.

  3. BRIKI

    Thanks a million.The mythical numbers 6,7 and 9 seem to originate from religion.. seventh sky or rather the idiom ‘to be in seventh heaven’ express es a high degree of happiness:There is a similar French expression :’he or she is ‘at the angels’ to say extreme happiness..To be six feet under..looks like to French expression:’we have one foot into the grave’ to say close to the death…

  4. Denis

    Thirty-three thousand people think that this Thursday is their thirtieth birthday. 🙂
    Excellent post, two thumbs up!

    At the same time, I’d like to use this opportunity to suggest a correction to the dictionary.
    Tear-stained and tear-streaked (both mean wet with tears) ought to be pronounced as: UK /ˈtɪəˌsteɪnd/ US /ˈtɪrˌsteɪnd/ and UK /ˈtɪəˌstriːkt/ US /ˈtɪrˌstriːkt/ accordingly, not UK /ˈteəˌsteɪnd/ US /ˈterˌsteɪnd/ or UK /ˈteəˌstriːkd/ US /ˈterstriːkd/ (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tear-stained, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tear-streaked).
    Moreover, your phonetic representation of the word ‘tear’ in the compound ‘tear gas’ has also been inaccurate (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tear-gas).

    1. Dear Denis,
      Thank you for reporting this issue with the entries ‘tear-stained’, ‘tear-streaked’ and ‘tear gas’ in the Cambridge Dictionary. Customer feedback is important to us for product development. Our editorial team have advised that you are correct and that this will be amended in a future update.

      1. Denis

        Don’t mention it.
        By the way, I’ve been wondering if you wouldn’t mind kindly considering incorporating the following idiom into the dictionary: the less you know, the better you sleep / the less sb knows, the better they sleep. This idiom obviously means the less information that might upset a person this person has been told, the better it is for their health and well-being. (I don’t think it would be a good idea to call my mother and tell her that I’ve been laid off. I should be able to find a new job soon, and anyway, the less she knows, the better she sleeps.)
        Watcha reckon apropos the proposal? 🙂

        Best wishes

      2. Dear Denis,
        Thank you for your message. We are adding new words to the online Cambridge Dictionary all the time. We use a number of criteria for deciding which words to include, the most important of which involve relevance to our users. The best way for us to know that a word is missing is if you enter it in our search field and do not get a result, as we monitor searches all the time. Unfortunately, we cannot accept suggestions for new words via this blog.

  5. Yuti

    Ah Helen! The face that launched a thousand ships! And started the Trojan War. No mere fifteen minutes of fame for this lady!

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