What is the meaning of "Nine tailors make a man"?: Information Roundup
This saying is generally misinterpreted through confusion with another, "The tailor makes the man," meaning a man is judged by the clothes he wears. In Hamlet Polonius tells his son that "the apparel oft proclaims the man." But "Nine tailors make a man" has a different meaning. There are several theories as to how it originated. It seems to be the result of the fusion of several ideas and sayings. Perhaps originally it signified that several tailors are the equivalent of one person. That tailors were an inferior breed was a common notion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers seldom mentioned tailors except to disparage or ridicule them. Tailors were the butt of all sorts of crude jokes, and early English literature is interspersed with jests at their expense. They are generally referred to contemptuously as gossips, knaves, pettifoggers or rascals. The idea seems to be that their trade and the cramped position in which they worked stunted them both physically and mentally to such an extent that it took several of them to equal a normal person. Some authorities suppose that "Nine tailors make a man" was an old Breton saying that the English borrowed from the French about 1600. However that may be, the original saying in English appears to have been "Three tailors make a man." In Northward Hoe Thomas Dekker and John Webster wrote in 1605: "They say three tailors go to the making up of a man." John Taylor, the Water Poet, in 1630 wrote:
But in 1639 John Cleveland, whose poetry was reputed in that day to be superior to that of his contemporary John Milton, wrote:Some foolish knave at first began
The slander that three tailors are one man.
Thomas Carlyle, in Sartor Resartus (literally "Tailor Retailored") said: "Does it not stand on record that the English Queen Elizabeth, [page 42] receiving a deputation of 18 tailors, addressed them with a 'Good morning, gentlemen both!'" These quotations all tend to discredit the generally accepted theory that "Nine tailors make a man" was suggested by the fact that the London tailors were highly specialized and that it took several of them to make a suit of clothes. Another theory is that the saying was the result of a series of puns on "Nine tellers mark a man." In olden times at funerals the church bell was tolled three times for a child, six times for a woman and nine times for a man. The tolls were called tellers. Hence, "Nine tellers mark a man"; that is, nine tolls of the bell denoted that a man and not a woman or child was being buried. Through facetiousness or error this may have been corrupted into "Nine tailors make a man."Like to nine tailors, who, if rightly spell'd Into one man are monosyllabel'd.