In "Nine While Nine" by The Sisters of Mercy there is this line:

Nine while nine and I'm waiting for the train...

What does "nine while nine" actually mean? I've never encountered anything similar in English apart from "nine to five" maybe. Perhaps these are related somehow?

  • 4
    Nine while nine is a northern phrase meaning from X til Y, in this case 9 am til 9pm But I never heard it before (I'm Southern UK). I think it might have been used for what we normally call a seven-eleven (a local shop that opens early and closes late). – FumbleFingers Jun 30 '16 at 16:20
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    From Google Books, 1986, about Sheffield. At Doncaster's there had been a foreman on every shift but at Niagara all the gaffers just worked nine while five. After five there was no one in charge. I used to work on the afternoon shift from two while ten. So it's not new. – Peter Shor Jun 30 '16 at 16:24
  • So from the comments by FungleFingers and Peter Shor (sorry, apparently I can't "@" you both), it sounds like the line means the speaker has had a very long day at work (9 am to 9 pm...or worse, 9 pm to 9 am) and is now waiting for the train to at last go home. – 1006a Jun 30 '16 at 17:55
  • More common is the 6-6 twelve hour shift pattern known in industrial south Yorkshire "six while six". It seems that the Sisters of Mercy were from Leeds originality so the idea that "nine while nine" means a twelve-hour stint at work sounds very likely. I'd need to see or hear the rest of the lyrics to know quite what it means. – BoldBen Mar 25 at 22:29

It’s whats said in some parts of Yorkshire when referring to time. Instead of saying to they say while, so it means 9am to 9pm.


The sense is recognised by the OED, as a "chiefly Northern" one.

b. as prep. Up to (a time), up to the time of; till, until. Now dialect (chiefly northern).

It actually has examples dating from 1455. More recent ones are:

1721 Coll. Polit. Lett. London Jrnl. 1720 14 Tho' he sweat and scrub while Doomsday. 1722 Mason's Acct. in C. Wordsworth Rutland Words (1891) 39 I was 2 dayes; And my Son was 2 days. And the third day wile three a Clock. 1854 A. E. Baker Gloss. Northamptonshire Words II. 393 It wants a quarter while nine o'clock.


<Doncaster lad here: born late '60s> "xxx while xxx", referring to time, was indeed not uncommon as a phrase.

  • Hi, it's good to have your input. This answer would benefit from a reference or citation to support your comments. Please take the tour and see the FAQ, and welcome to EL&U. – livresque Dec 12 '20 at 5:13

"While" just means "until", as in "wait while I close the door", "wait while they score before you start booing" etc. It's west/south Yorkshire mostly.

"Nine while nine" means "Nine til nine", like "nine while five" in the example above means "nine til five"

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