Deal with a problem when it first appears and you'll save yourself a lot of time and/or money later.
This proverb is first cited in English in Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs Collected by Thomas Fuller (1732)
Some say that the term originates at sea which seems to make sense as a quick stitch to a sail that is coming apart will certainly save a lot of trouble later; and many sources suggest that "nine" was added later for rhyming purposes (Thomas Fuller quotes it as "may save nine")
However, a few suggest a more macabre source of the phrase saying that it took 9 pounds of shot to weigh down the body sack of a person being buried at sea, and the last stitch was made through a body part, partly to keep the shroud and body together and partly so that if the person wasn't actually dead and woke as a result of being pierced through the skin with a large needle, nine pounds of shot would not be wasted!
The first explanation seems to make more sense to us. While it is true that when sewing up a shroud on a ship the last stitch was often made through the nose, there doesn't appear to be any record of a fixed amount of weight being associated with a burial at sea.
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