Thursday 18 June 2009
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine: Origin and Meaning
The meaning is easy to understand. If something needs attention, do it now, rather than wait until the situation becomes progressively worse and finally out of control. This will result in requiring much more attention than would have been the case if it had been addressed immediately.
Why stitches and why nines? Most sources refer to stitches as in knitting, sewing or needlepoint. If you drop one and do not fix it immediately, you will have to redo your work later. The Nine still not identified. Some say it takes 9 stitches before you realise one has been dropped, others say it takes nine times longer. No matter, there is no consensus that I could find.
Put into plain words, if you have a tear in your shirt and it can be fixed with one stitch, do it. If you don’t, the tear will get bigger and later need many more stitches. So, do not procrastinate. End of story.( Oftentimes easier said than done. I have great respect for people that do everything now...even though it could have been done a little later...)
Origin. There is consensus that the first written reference is in Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British (1732AD)
This reference is to “ a stitch in time may save nine,” not will but may, the may has been dropped somewhere along the line.
If this was a proverb in the early 1700’s then it must have been around for a long time before that.
The second quoted written reference is that of Francis Baily, in a journal entry published in 1856, where no reference is made to “may”, just a stitch in time saves nine.
All said and done, I could find no origin, no definite explanation as to what kind of stitch or the significance of the nine. Buried in the past somewhere.
If you are interested in Ye Olde Sayings, Google Thomas Fuller, and sit back and enjoy. It is amazing how the old proverbs are still around, albeit they have morphed somewhat.
“All things are difficult before they are easy”
“Bacchus hath drowned more men than Neptune”
Image from Wikipedia