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Where Did the Phrase “Dressed to the Nines” Come From?

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After watching the new Justin Timberlake video, reader Katie Rose wrote in ask about the origins of “dressed to the nines.” Reader Donna wrote with the same question, though I don’t know what music videos she’s been watching. 

There’s plenty of folk etymologies for the phrase that link clothing with the number nine. One says that the phrase comes from the nine yards of material a tailor needed to make a really nice suit. A few tailors I talked to, though, say four to five yards of fabric should be sufficient for a three piece suit. Another origin story says that the phrase refers to the 99th (Lanarkshire) Regiment of Foot, a British army regiment established in 1824, reportedly known for the immaculate condition of their uniforms. Still another clothing origin suggests that the phrase descends from the Old English saying “dressed to the eyes,” which, because Old English was weird, was written as “dressed to then eyne.” The thinking goes that someone at some point heard “then eyne” and mistook it for “the nine” or “the nines.”

The hitch with these clothing-specific origins, though, is that the simpler phrases “to the nine” and “to the nines” were already used to mean “to perfection” for about a century before “dressed to the nines” came along. Whatever significance the number nine had to warrant its place in the phrase, it doesn’t seem to have always been specific to clothing. 

This opens up the possibilities to a few more proposed origins, but there doesn’t seem to be one solid answer. The “nine” in question could still be a misheard “then eyne” and refer to the eyes. It might also refer to a group of nine, examples of which pop up in myth and history all over the world. In Christianity, the fruits and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are both nine in number. In Norse cosmology, the great tree Yggdrasil unites nine worlds. The ancient Greeks had nine muses. In Europe during the Middle Ages, the Nine Worthies were men drawn from pagan, Jewish and Christian history as personifications of chivalry. “The nines” we invoke when talking about a snappy dresser might mean any one of these groups, or something else, but a definitive answer is elusive. 

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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