Hand sanitizer and masks with a string of Christmas lights make for great wreath decorations. This was my ‘just for a laugh’ Covid wreath from Christmas 2020. Turns out, I shoulda kept it for Round Two. 

There’s a story behind every word, a tale to every phrase.

These histories, given their common parlance, get muddied or lost. Phrases, in particular, have interesting back stories. Take, ‘Bob’s your uncle’ for example. Did you know that  Bob refers to British Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil who was the uncle to Aurthur Balfour who, in 1887, appointed Balfour to the sensitive post of Chief Secretary for Ireland? The expression sums up a thing done swiftly and handily with a predictable outcome. I’m sure that bit of history isn’t top of mind when someone rounds out a batch of instructions, but there you have it. Bob was, indeed, someone’s uncle.  

Bob was, indeed, someone’s uncle.  

Photo by Rod Long

An expression has floated up to the surface this holiday season. It’s not surprising, given how things are going. The expression is ‘sixes and sevens’. You’ve certainly heard it before; in the Rolling Stones’ song, Tumbling Dice, Mick Jagger sings, “Honey, got no money, I’m all sixes and sevens and nines”.  Eva Peron appeals to her public in Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina as “a girl dressed up to the nines, at sixes and sevens with you”. From Mike Meyers’ Austin Powers to Shakespeare’s Richard II, the phrase ‘sixes and sevens’ is trotted out as a tidy way of describing things gone afoul.  

The expression is ‘sixes and sevens’.

Any wonder it’s been on my mind?

The term ‘sixes and sevens’ dates back to the time of Chaucer and maybe even earlier.  It’s generally agreed that it has its genesis in gaming. Etymologists – people who study words – believe that the term derived from a dice game called hazard. The word ‘hazard’ itself derives from the arabic, az-zahr. Hazard was a game not unlike craps. Apparently, setting out for a six or a seven was a risky call. A player who called sixes or sevens was considered careless, inexperienced and likely to come to ruin. The story behind the phrase is slightly more complicated than that.  Etymologist Micheal Quinion, is a singularly interesting fellow. He was a BBC radio producer, the curator of the Cider Museum in Hereford, England – yes, there’s a museum devoted entirely to cider – and he runs a website dedicated to unlocking the stories within words and phrases. He believes that ‘sixes and sevens’ is actually a bad translation from the French expression for a poor dice call, ‘to set on cinque and sice’. I mention this only in the event that the craps players amongst you take exception to the game theory implied. Sevens, apparently, are mathematically optimal in craps.

Photo from the Washingtonian.

And so, with the history of the phrase taken care of, we can turn our attention to just how perfectly sixes and sevens describes our situation.  Bloody hell. Right?

Bloody hell.

Will it never end?

Twice this month, I’ve had direct exposures to Covid and have had to self-isolate. I’ve gone from not knowing anyone with Covid to being surrounded by it. My sister is schlepping tea and toast to her husband, her daughter and her son – all double vaccinated and all testing positive for  Covid. The Christmas turkey is in the deep freezer.

… given how much pathogens love the Canadian winter.

Sums up Covid Christmas

It’s all somewhat predictable, given how much pathogens love the Canadian winter. What has been surprising is just how dreadfully low this has brought us all. In wartime, morale is taken very seriously and, clearly, we are in a type of war. The task is how to offset the widespread despair and despondency. My guess is the only thing we can do is offset the bad with the good. This is the moment to find some way to champion the essential spirit of the season. This is the moment to reconnect with the best of civic values. For as miserable as we might feel, there is certainly someone else feeling worse, someone for whom the holiday is as bleak as bleak can be. 

The new level of communicability means we really are ‘all in this together’.  

Happy holidays everyone … let’s find a way, in spite of everything.  Bob’s your uncle.

This week’s question for readers:


Now, in return, will you do something for me? Will you sign up for The Plain Jane, my newsletter? You can ignore it, if you want, when it shows up in your inbox every few weeks, but my rotten kids will think I’m a star if I have a decent subscriber list. 

Here’s further incentive to sign up: PRIZES!!!

Submissions to last week’s question:

Who impresses you and why?

Let me briefly describe a recent experience regarding an unexpected act of kindness. A local contractor was parked in my strata complex having lunch and I asked about a small plumbing issue in my unit. Ricky from Trinity Plumbing, without hesitation, said he would be glad to have a look. He fixed the minor problem and refused payment, even some cash for a meal. Ricky said his effort came from the goodness of his heart and that was enough. An impressive act from a decent young man. 

Alan Crossley

My friend, Mary S., regularly impresses me.  She was a nurse, but became addicted to painkillers after an injury. When we met, she told me she wanted to get clean, reconnect with her three adult sons, and return to nursing. Mary has been clean for four years now, survived major heart surgery, completed extensive cardiac rehab and reconnected with her three wonderful sons. Now she works on the DTES as a harm reduction coordinator, helping other women who are where she has been. Mary continues to impress me by setting goals and then working relentlessly to accomplish them.

Roberta Walker

J raised four children, mostly on her own, the eldest still battling debilitating developmental and mental health issues, her home always open to those who needed a safe haven.  J taught elementary school, for years inspiring and advocating for students while mentoring younger teachers.  And, she was a foster parent, caring for many children over 20 years, including nurturing, from toddler to adult, a young woman who has defied all odds to survive and succeed.  In between, J has volunteered in many ways, including advocating for families dealing with mental illness. J models empathy, care, open-mindedness and mindfulness.

Julie Halfnights

I’m impressed daily by the Knitting Circle in my PoCo retirement residence, The Astoria. They’re generous to a fault with time and energy. On any day, you’ll find four to six of 11 lovely senior ladies in front of the fireplace, creating hats, baby blankets, toys, lap blankets and other soft and cuddly woolen goods for men, women and children served by Nurses Without Borders, the Tri-Cities Transition Society and Fellburn Care Centre in Burnaby. Aged from late 70s to early 90s, they knit throughout the year, some never missing a day: Sonja Archbold, Anne Conway, Renata Hartman, Diane Kennedy, Audrey Lactin, Therese Lamb, Anne Marie Mattman, Jessie Richmond, Bette Stirling, Isobel Straghan and Irene Williams. This year’s November craft fair and auction raised $1,795, given to the Tri-Cities Transition Society. Residents of the Fellburn Care Centre got 13 laptop blankets.

Jim Peacock

My wife Susan is my every day hero. When she senses that one of her friends is down or going through a rough time she drops everything to take them a plant, card or some token to let them know that she notices and is there for them. The gifts that she gives people are chosen thoughtfully with love and care not just on special occasions but throughout the year. In an age of egocentricity it is so refreshing to know that the gift of giving for giving’s sake is alive and well.

Avrum Miller

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