The colloquial phrase to look nine ways (at once) means to have a squint.
It is first recorded in the translation of a passage from Homer’s Iliad describing the Greek soldier Thersites, in Apophthegmes, that is to saie, prompte, quicke, wittie and sentencious saiynges, of certain Emperours, Kynges, Capitaines, Philosophiers and Oratours, aswell Grekes, as Romaines, bothe veraye pleasaunt & profitable to reade, partely for all maner of persones, & especially Gentlemen. First gathered and compiled in Latine by the ryght famous clerke Maister Erasmus of Roterodame. And now translated into Englyshe by Nicolas Udall (London, 1542), the translation by the English schoolmaster and playwright Nicholas Udall (1504-56) of Apophthegmata, by the Dutch humanist and scholar Desiderius Erasmus (circa 1469-1536):
Thersites, was one of ye Grekes, and came emong the moo out of the countree of Aetolia vnto the battaill of Troye : a greate gentleman born, but the wurst of feacture, of shape and of fauoure, that possible might bee, and a veraye cowarde : Whom Homerus in his secounde volume of his werke, entitleed Ilias (that is, of the battaill of Troye) describeth bothe in woordes and sense, much lyke as foloeth:
Emong all others, to Troye there came,
An eiuill fauoured geaste, called by name
Thersites, a pratleer bee ye sure,
Without all facion, ende or measure.
What soeuer came, in his foolishe brain,
Out it should, wer it neuer so vain.
In eche mannes bote, would he haue an ore,
But no woorde, to good purpose, lesse or more :
And without all maner, would he presume
With kynges and princes, to cocke and fume.
In feactes of armes, naught could he dooe,
Nor had no more herte, then a gooce therunto.
All the Grekes did hym, deride and mocke,
And had hym, as their commen laughyng stocke.
Squyntyied he was, and looked nyne wayes.
Likewise, the text in which the fuller form to look nine ways at once is first recorded associates cross eyes with a moral defect. This text is A manifestation of the great folly and bad spirit of certayne in England calling themselues secular priestes. Who set forth dayly most infamous and contumelious libels against worthy men of their owne religion, and diuers of them their lawful Superiors, of which libels sundry are heer examined and refuted. By priestes lyuing in obedience (Antwerp, 1602), by the English Jesuit priest Robert Parsons (Robert Persons – 1546-1610)—the author describes the author of “the libel intituled, a sparing discouery of English Iesuites, and of F. Persons proceedings” as
being so wrong shapen, and of so bad & blinking aspect, as he looketh nyne wayes at once, as scarsely he can discerne any thing that toucheth not his eyes, which yet we obiect not as natures defect, but as representing rather the state of his mynd.
Another phrase meaning to have a squint is to look two ways for Sunday, also to look both ways for Sunday.
It is first recorded as to look two ways for Sunday in the translation by the British clergyman and historian of Russia William Tooke (1744-1820) of a letter written by Étienne Maurice Falconet (1716-91), a French sculptor most famous for his equestrian statue of Peter the Great (1782) in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In the first tome of Œuvres d’Étienne Falconet statuaire ; contenant plusieurs écrits relatifs aux beaux arts, dont quelques-uns ont déja paru, mais fautifs : d’autres sont nouveaux (Lausanne, 1781), Falconet writes that, shortly after his arrival at St. Petersburg, he received from a person whom he does not name a memoir containing an idea for the future statue of Peter the Great.
The following is an extract from the sarcastic answer that Falconet wrote, at St. Petersburg on 15th April 1769, to the unnamed author of the memoir—as translated by William Tooke and published in Pieces written by Mons. Falconet, and Mons. Diderot, on sculpture in general, and particularly on the celebrated statue of Peter the great, now finishing by the former at St. Petersburg (London, 1777):
Give me leave to make a small observation or two on your idea of the statue of Peter the great.
You say, if I am not mistaken, that, looking directly along the course of the Neva, the statue should look also, with the right eye towards the admiralty, and the left eye towards Vassili-Ostroff. Are you sensible, Sir, how perfectly new this idea is, and how long it is likely to continue so?—So long as the human eyes continue to be placed and organized as you and I have them. This manner of looking has existed no where, that I know of, but in the proverb, He looks two ways for Sunday; or in this, He has one eye at St. Paul’s and the other at Charing-cross.
This is the original text, as published in Œuvres d’Étienne Falconet statuaire, op. cit.:
Permettez-moi de vous faire de petites observations sur votre idée de la statue de Pierre le Grand.
Vous dites, si je ne me trompe, que regardant directement le cours de la Neva, la statue regarderoit aussi de l’œil droit l’Amirauté & de l’œil gauche le Vassili-Ostrow. Savez-vous, Monsieur, combien cette idée est neuve, & combien de tems elle le sera ? Tant que les yeux humains seront placés & organisés comme vous & moi les avons. Cette maniere de regarder n’a encore existé, que je sache, ailleurs que dans ce dicton, il a un œil aux champs & l’autre à la ville1 ; & dans celui-ci, il regarde du côté de la Bourgogne pour voir si la Champagne brûle2.
1 il a un œil aux champs & l’autre à la ville translates as he has one eye at the fields and the other at the town.
2 il regarde du côté de la Bourgogne pour voir si la Champagne brûle translates as he looks towards Burgundy to see whether Champagne is burning—Burgundy is a region and former duchy of east-central France; Champagne is a former province of north-eastern France.
In the second edition of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (London, 1788), the English antiquary and lexicographer Francis Grose (1731-91) explained to look both ways for Sunday, and recorded to look nine ways at once as well as other synonymous expressions:
Squint-a-pipes3. A squinting man or woman; said to be born in the middle of the week, and looking both ways for Sunday; or born in a hackney coach, and looking out of both windows; fit for a cook, one eye in the pot, and the other up the chimney; looking nine ways at once.
3 In squint-a-pipes, pipe is probably an alteration of peep, meaning a look, a glance.
This image and caption are from an advertisement for Newbold, “sight testing specialists and artists in eye-wear”, St. Edward Street, Leek, published in the Leek Post & Times and Cheadle News & Times & North Staffs Advertiser (Leek, Staffordshire, England) of 19th August 1939:
“I was the little girl with the ‘squint,’ Mr. Newbold . . . .
. . . . but I don’t squint any longer.”