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Why do we say "A stitch in time saves nine"?

Well-Known Expressions

A stitch in time saves nine

Meaning:

Deal with a problem when it first appears and you'll save yourself a lot of time and/or money later.

Background:

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.

Alphabetical list of expressions

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Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: Horse
    Horse
    by Geraldine Brooks
    Voted 2022 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers. Geraldine Brooks creates a ...
  • Book Jacket: In Love
    In Love
    by Amy Bloom
    Voted 2022 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers. In 2019, author Amy Bloom and her...
  • Book Jacket: Remarkably Bright Creatures
    Remarkably Bright Creatures
    by Shelby Van Pelt
    Voted 2022 Best Debut Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers. Shelby Van Pelt's debut novel, ...

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    The debut novel of a gifted storyteller who has become a sensation in her native South Africa.

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Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Cradles of the Reich
by Jennifer Coburn
Three women, a nation seduced by a madman, and the Nazi breeding program to create a so-called master race.
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