The three tailors of Tooley Street. Canning says that three
tailors of Tooley Street, Southwark, addressed a petition of grievances
to the House of Commons, beginning- “We, the people of England.” (See Vaughan.)
Nine tailors make a man.
The present scope of this expression is that a tailor is so much
more feeble than another man that it would take nine of them to make a
man of average stature and strength. There is a tradition 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 up with a fruit barrow.
The little merchant in time became rich, and adopted for his motto, “Nine tailors made me a man,” or “Nine tailors make a man.” This
certainly is not the origin of the expression, inasmuch as we find a
similar one used by Taylor a century before that date, and referred to
as of old standing, even then.
Some foolish knave, I thinke, at first began
The slander that three taylers are one man.
Taylor: Workes, iii. 73'(1630).
Another suggestion is this: At the death of a man the tolling bell
is rung thrice three tolls; at the death of a woman it is rung only
three-two tolls. Hence nine tolls indicate the death of a man.
Halliwell gives telled = told, and a tolling-bell is a teller.
In regard to “make,” it is the French faire, as On le faisait
mort, i.e. some one gave out or made it known that he was dead.
“The fourme of the Trinitie was founded in manne. ... Adam our
forefather, ... and Eve of Adam the secunde personne, and of them both
was the third persone. At the death of a manne three bells schulde be
ronge as his knyll, in worscheppe of the Trinitie- for a womanne, who
is the secunde personne of the Trinitie, two belles schulde be
rungen.” —An old English Homily for Trinity Sunday. (See Strutt: Manners and Customs, vol. iii. p. 176.)
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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