Old English phrase. Usually said to disparage the skeletal physique of someone (usually a tailor, natch). It actually comes from the old rural English custom of a church spreading the news of a parishioner's death by tolling a bell. If a child died, the bell was tolled three times. A woman died, the bell tolled six. And, if a man died, he got nine tolls. Ergo, nine tailors make a man.