Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Hitting On All Sixes

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 11, 2014

When you’re working on something and everything’s going well, you might hear your grandpa tell you that you’re hitting on all sixes.  It’s a compliment, and it means you’re doing everything right.  So what does the number six have to do with doing things right?

It’s a car reference of course, referring to six cylinders.  When everything was aligned, there was no back firing, no jerking, no sudden stopping, and the car made its way down the street with no troubles at all.  In fact, a car that fired on all cylinders was a marvel to behold.

Back in 1948, in the Electrical Workers’ Journal, Labor Union 420 in Waterbury, Connecticut started their column off with some happy news about their union president.

Our venerable president, Walt Wright, has been laid up with midwinter illness, but by now should be out hitting on all sixes.

The Depression era of the 1930s saw a number of difficulties, not the least of which were between the police and criminal types.  Not to worry though because this was published in the 1933 edition of the “Police Yearbook” published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The defy that the average hoodlum has given to the country has been accepted by the law enforcing officers.  We here in the city feel that we can and will cope with the situation. We feel that we have a police force that are hitting on all sixes.

We know that we are having a little bad luck in losing some of our policemen.  That is an indication that every policeman is on his toes; he is willing to shoot it out with the fellow that heretofore was willing to take a chance with the judge.

The Michigan State Dental Society bulletin Volume 9 printed in 1927 found a creative way to use the idiom as well as evidenced by this announcement.

Speaking of mongrels, let me introduce Ed. Giffen; enuf Scotch to spend little and sufficient Hebrew to take all.   Ed goes to a Thanksgiving Keno party, guys a card for the usual two bits and walks off with a turkey, a good and a duck.  I claim that’s hitting on all sixes.  Ed certainly knows his proteins.

Some sources claim that the expression is from the 1920s, however, Idiomation found the idiom used in the a professional engineer magazine dated January 1918.  The magazine was known as “The Monad” and was the official published magazine from the American Association of Engineers, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.  It was billed as being devoted to the social and economic welfare of the technical engineer.  The column dedicated to the Valparaiso chapter included this comment.

“Montana” Calkins then proceeded to apply his highly specialized mechanical touch to the picture machine with the result that it finally got tired of stalling and started hitting on all sixes.

A year earlier, on March 29, 1917, the National Underwriter — the official weekly newspaper of the insurance industry — published this advertisement.
The National Underwriter_Volume 21_1917The advertisement was published in the April 3rd, April 12th, April 19th, and May 10th editions as well.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the idiom than those found in 1917, however, since the reference is rooted in automotive history, note that cars hail from the 1860s when they had up to four cylinders!

Cosmopolitan magazine published a car guide in 1906, which listed a number of cars with specs.  This is where the first six cylinder — forty horsepower — car is mentioned, manufactured by Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan.  At this point in time, it should be noted that gaskets hadn’t been perfected yet, and so the seal between cylinders and cylinder heads was a real hit-or-miss situation that relied on T-heads resulting in valve life that lasted only a few hundred miles before it repairs were needed.  By 1909, there were about eighty car manufacturers who used the six cylinder engine in their cars.

It’s easy to see then how hitting on all sixes was a reference to all going well, and based on car history, Idiomation can state that the expression came into being some time after 1906.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: