Before becoming the title of a late 1990s mob-related movie staring Deborah Harry, the idiom "six ways to Sunday" was a less commonly used English expression meaning every way possible, thoroughly, or completely. Tracing the roots of such idioms is not always easy, especially given regional preferences and idiom variations. Lack of direct etymological links and histories for the expression aside, the meaning behind six ways to or from Sunday can be deciphered based on logical assumptions. As with many metaphors, idioms, and figures of speech, an individual unaccustomed to the phrase should be able to determine its meaning without the need of references.
Applying a logical meaning to six ways to Sunday is simple. In terms of the calendar, there are six days after Sunday, or six days before Sunday, depending on the perspective. The phrase points out the inevitability of reaching Sunday, no matter what day serves as starting point. Implying there are six different ways to Sunday simply illustrates that virtually any subject, task, problem or situation has multiple methods of approach. To discuss any topic and reference this way simply means there are numerous directions or options, and trying every which way ensures thoroughness.
Typically, the idiom is used to illustrate a wide variety of possibilities, as well as thoroughness in pursuing possibilities. For example, "she studied the subject six ways to Sunday before reaching a conclusion." Used in this manner, the phrase refers to covering the topic from multiple viewpoints, in every way possible. Alternatively, using the idiom in a statement such as "the crowd dispersed six ways to Sunday" means the crowd disperse in all directions. Other meanings may be implied, depending on the context in which the phrase is used, but all uses imply thoroughness, completeness, or extensive options.
Idioms with unknown origins are not uncommon. Based on anecdotal evidence and reports from teachers, linguists, and other language-based professionals, "six ways to Sunday" is assumed to be an English expression. Experts, such as they are, report it is typically used on a regional basis in America, England, Australia, and other predominantly English-speaking countries. Variations of the phrase include "six different ways to Sunday" or "six ways from Sunday," as well as changes in the number used, such as seven or nine. Regardless of the number, all such phrase variations mean the same thing: completely, thoroughly, in all directions, or every way possible.