Mandatory Music: enjoy this underrated Robert Plant song (Sixes and Sevens) while you read. Go on, press the button:
I was looking into the phrase “at sixes and sevens” when I found out about livery companies in London. Livery companies are trade associations with FANTASTIC names that all start with “The Worshipful Company Of” plus the name of the profession. One stunning example is The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, who are #4 on the list establishing “order of precedence.” This order is now based on seniority, although originally (in 1515) ranking on the list indicated that trade’s size and level of influence. One theory about the origin of “at sixes and sevens” arises from the dispute between The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors (tailors) and The Worshipful Company of Skinners (furriers), who each felt they deserved the #6 slot. The mayor decided the two guilds would alternate spots at #6 and #7 each year.
However, the order of precedence compromise is likely not the origin of the phrase, which means “A state of confusion and disorder, or of disagreement between parties.” Chaucer used it in 1374, after all, predating the order of precedence. More likely, the phrase originated from playing a dice game called Hazard, where betting on rolling a 5 and a 6 was thought a risky move; the phrase gradually morphed to involve 6 and 7 instead—a pairing not possible through rolling dice (so clearly the riskiest bet of all). Betting on a 7 came up in the webisode of Misfits wherein Nathan’s special power is magic tricks, which he uses to roll 7s and 11s—and 7+4=11, right?