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What Does the Idiom "Six Ways to Sunday" Mean?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By Jmitch — On Sep 22, 2012

This phrase came about as punishment for not going to church on Sunday.

The punishment was six different types of punishments to make sure they did go to church on Sunday.

By SteamLouis — On Jan 21, 2012

@turkay1-- Yea, "every which way" is a synonym of "six ways to Sunday" and can pretty much be used interchangeably.

There really are many different variations to it. I've heard it used as "6 different ways from Sunday," "7 different ways from Sunday," "40 ways from Sunday," "100 ways from Sunday," and "1000 ways from Sunday."

Plus, the word "ways from" can be replaced with any one of "for," "till," "to," "ways for," "ways till," and "ways to."

So there are at least 40 different variations of the idiom. I honestly can't tell you why but I'm guessing that as people wanted to emphasize the intensity of the action, they've increased the number of "ways" to reflect that. The other differences were probably created as per convenience.

If anyone has any other explanation of it, I would love to hear it.

By candyquilt — On Jan 20, 2012

@fify-- I think you're right. This idiom doesn't seem to be too popular in US English, so it probably originated in the UK or Australia.

It does remind me a lot of a phrase we use in the South- "every which way." I think it means basically the same thing, it's talking about doing something in every way possible.

But "six ways til Sunday" is different from "every which way" in the sense that it has other variations of the idiom. I think this is a bit confusing. "Six ways" makes a lot of sense because of the six days before and after Sunday like the article said. But seven days or nine days to Sunday? This doesn't make sense at all.

I wonder why different variations have been made up for this idiom? Does anyone know more about the origin and context of it?

By fify — On Jan 20, 2012

My aunt lived in the UK for many years and I've heard her use this phrase several times. I'm sure it's used here in America too, I've just never heard it used by anyone other than my aunt.

We went to my aunt's house for Christmas for example and when she was talking about her preparations, she said "I cleaned the house 6 ways to Sunday." So she had cleaned every bit of the house before the entire family arrived.

I really like this idiom. She could have easily said, "I cleaned the house," but it wouldn't have told us anything about how hard she worked or the nature of the cleaning. Idioms are so great at painting a detailed picture of the situation in our head. And I really like this particular idiom, I'm going to start using it too from now on.

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