View Full Version : the whole nine yards
I cannot verify this, but a veteran I trust informed me that "the whole nine yards" refers to 27 foot cartridge belts used in WWII aircraft. Any truth?
This is one of those few questions that I believe Cecil had to go back and amend his answer to. I don't know what the resolution was. I don't have the patience to search the archives, so I'll just tell you what I think the origen of the expession is:
The "whole nine yards" refers to a three masted ship under full sail;
1. The foresail yard
2. The fore topsail yard
3. The fore topgallant yard
4. The mainsail yard
5. The main topsail yard
6. The main topgallant yard
7. The mizzensail yard
8. The mizzen topsail yard
6. The mizzen topgallant yard
Yards were the spars that held the sails to the masts, and would usually be taken down if not in use (at least the topmost yards). A ship carrying nine yards was one that was giving it all she had, literally throwing caution to the wind. Too much sail could damage a mast, so the "full nine yards" means giving it all you've got regardless of the consequences.
have read these, but no one suggested my submission. so, I offer this as another possibility. It should be easy enough to check out. Any vets out there?
No. The term precedes WWII. Having read several hundred books on the subject of the airwar during WWII, I have never seen the phrase used in any recollection by any pilot. The oldest reference that I have seen linking "nine yards" and U.S. aircraft is only about three years old--far younger than the cement mixer truck, coal truck, or material in a bride's dress theories that have circulated for at least twenty years. U.S. planes carried a a wide variety of armaments, often carrying more ammo for the "inside" guns (used for sighting) than for the "outside" guns. There is simply not enough evidence for this speculation to give it any credence.
Papabear? I think you're missing a few yards, here. Where are your royals? In addition, by the time of the clippers, the tops'l, t'gallant, and royals had all been divided in two on many ships with upper and lower tops'l, upper and lower t'gallant, and upper and lower royals. And while the "nine yards" precedes WWII, I can't remember a citation from backin the nineteenth century when all those yards were hanging off masts.
Good try, but I believe that the answer has still eluded us.
I thought it was originally the whole nine CARDS, from the little-known poker variant of nine-card draw. If you got a really dreadful hand, you could replace the entire nine cards in your hand, hence... But over time, the expression was misheard.
Warning: Satire may, from time to time, seep into my comments. I am not responsible for these environmental leaks.
Tom - I'm not above above ignoring royals, toproyals, and skysails (not to mention spritsails, staysails and jibs) to tell a good story.
I still like your arctic generator cables story best.
I stand corrected. thank you tomndebb, et al, for your input. I humbly withdraw my suggestion.
I have the phrase in a book of celtic fairy tales originally published in 1892. The phrase is used in a different context than we use it. I'll read the book again and post it here.
Mastery is not perfection but a journey, and the true master must be willing to try and fail and try again
I remember hearing that in the old (?) days, it took approximately 9 yards of fabric to make a really top-notch dress. So if you could, you went "the whole nine yards".
Grrrrr, popo. Read Cecil's column in the archives before you post crap, eh? The nine yards to make a dress/suit/wedding train is discredited, as are most explanations that have been floating around.
01-18-2000, 07:28 PM
As far as I know, the earliest citations of "the whole nine yards" known to lexicographers date from the late 60s to early 70s.
So if anyone has an earlier citation, certain people would like to know about it. Even if it means something a bit different than its current meaning.
BTW, I can't seem to find the Cecil column on this topic in the archives.
01-18-2000, 10:06 PM
Check out these two:
Cecil's 9 Yard Column (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_252.html)
Dopers' 9 Yard Thread (http://www.straightdope.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/000241.html)
and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel to toe
01-19-2000, 03:41 PM
jti: thanks for the pointers to Cecil's column and the other discussion. Some of those posts were hilarious.
jynx: I think you attributed to me two things which I didn't say. I couldn't find Cecil's column on-line, so I didn't say he disproves anything. I will say that having numerous stories all allegedly explaining the same phrase is redolent of folk etymology.
Secondly, while lexicographers haven't been able to find any cites earlier than the late 60s, this doesn't mean that that's when the phrase originated, although it does suggest that it originated not too long before that.
In defense of "Popokis5", I have reviewed Cecil's remarks, and Cecil reaches no conclusion NOR does Cecil address the clothes-making issue. All I do see are WAGs by Cecil's fans. If Cecil DID refute this as "Dtilque" suggests, it has eluded me as well.
The well-accepted origin refers back to the tailor. Whether it's a suit or dress per se is pushing it. Ultimately, the expression has been adapted to many situations. Like many of these cliches, the original phrasing is lost. For example "the proof is in the pudding" is NOT the correct expression.
The suggestion from "Dtilque" that the cliche only dates back to the '60s or '70s is crazy. I don't have it written in stone by a lexicographer, but people certainly used this expression...as reflected in remarks from other members' postings as shown above.
Some things are just passed down by word of mouth. I mean, who was to first to say "it's like reinventing the wheel?"
01-20-2000, 12:55 AM
Wait a minute, PapaBear are you saying you were kidding? You had me totally convinced! Mainly because nautical terms seem to be the source of so many obscure expressions that I guess I would believe anything.
"Gullible" is actually derived from a nautical term describing a very maneuverable ship.
Seriously though, I had figured that only nine yards were needed for a vessel to be fully-rigged, and that the royals and skysails were sort of "optional accessories". At least, that's what it looks like from certain simple drawing of each type of vessel ... ships have nine square sails, brigs have six; barques have six plus some fore-and-aft stuff on the mizzen....
So please tell me you weren't kidding.
Dtilque, my apologies for the confusion on my part. I stand corrected. Strike that from the record!
Rephrasing: In defense of "Popokis5", I re-direct my statement to "CKDextHavn" who claims the dress/suit/wedding train angle is discredited. Cecil's reply did not touch on this, and the many WAGs diverge from any hard conclusions and/or discrediting this theory.
02-11-2000, 10:07 PM
My grandfather told me "the whole nine yards" referred to the amount of ammunition for a machine gun on the ground in WWII. One of those strips of ammunition was nine yards of bullets... soldiers were instructed to fire a few rounds or "give 'em the whole nine yards."
One site I found that backs this up is at http://www.psd.k12.co.us/archive/libnet/2648.html
02-13-2000, 10:12 AM
Zyada wrote: "I have the phrase in a book of celtic fairy tales originally published in 1892. The phrase is used in a different context than we use it. I'll read the book again and post it here."
If that's true, Zyada, then you have the earliest reference to this phrase. The problem in this case would probably be trying to figure out why it appeared in print in the 19th century, then dropped out of sight for 60 to 70 years, then suddenly showed up again.
After reading the other postulations here, I can see why Cecil gets so frustrated with the teeming millions. Didn't anyone bother to read the original post before offering the same old suggestions? (Sorry, forget it, rhetorical question)
-- Mike --
02-13-2000, 11:34 AM
The problem with Zyada's reference is that, when it was republished the editor may have edited and/or changed phrasings to suit the times. Now, if the book says that there were no changes in the original text, we may be on the right path. :)
02-14-2000, 08:44 AM
Here's what the lexicographers at Random House have to say:
WW II ammunition belts? Nope.
Men's suits, women's bridal gowns? Nope.
Sails and masts? Nope.
Cement mixers? Football games? Burial shrouds? Nope, nope, and nope.
Personally, I think the phrase originated with the classic Bruce Willis - guy from Friends movie. (Why can't I remember his name?)
"The dawn of a new era is felt and not measured." Walter Lord
02-19-2000, 09:43 AM
OK, the real story [tongue firmly in cheek]:
Today, the central office of nationwide criminal investigation in Britain is Scotland Yard. But in the 18th Century, there were actually different "Yards," or departments, which investigated criminals across county boundaries. These had nifty pseudo-regional names:
and, of course, after 1764, Quebec Yard.
When some particularly galling crime was pulled off, the king would call in the Minister of Apprehension, who would ask how many of the royal forces were to be put on the case; George III was known for growling, "Give me the whole Nine Yards!"
[/tongue firmly in cheek]
<font color="#802300">what's sad is this; this story will actually enter the public consciousness and become a legend, even though I made up EVERYTHING IN IT.</font>
A new world order has been formed/between the cheque book and the dawn/A new renaissance man is born"
Jim Moginie/Peter Garrett/Martin Rotsey (Midnight Oil), "Renaissance Man"
02-20-2000, 09:39 AM
The Whole Nine Yards is a movie. Thanks to Hollywood for actually providing us with an answer. ;)
03-07-2000, 12:15 AM
More plausibilities on "the whole nine yards" http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/?date=19971128
Also, check this:
During WWII, there were nine naval shipyards (NY, Philadelphia, Long Beach, Pearl Harbor, etc etc.) When the Sec Nav issued an edict affecting all shipyards, it was entitled 'to all nine Yards'; hence, the orignal expression was "all" nine yards, not the "whole" nine yards.
03-07-2000, 12:58 AM
I'm beginning to think that it refers to the cubic measurement of fertilizer being thrown about by people on this topic. :)
03-08-2000, 12:34 AM
OK, well I think the answer below has some merit, especially since the originator went to some trouble to figure it out."The whole nine yards" refers to the amount of fabric in a proper Scottish kilt.
Nine yards of fabric seemed positively way too much for a skirt - I mean a kilt. I was skeptical so I did a quick calculation on the kilt idea.
Measuring myself around the buttocks and hips, I find that I am 42 inches in circumference. 9 yards is 324 inches. Hence 9 yards of fabric could wrap around me 7.7 times! Even allowing for pleats and a bit of breathing room, this seems far too much.
However the kilt notion may have merit. Today, cloth is sold linearly such that a yard is three feet long, regardless of the width. But these measurements are likely to be the area of cloth - nine square yards.
The kilt, much like the suit, must have the fabric oriented in the proper direction. The plaid or Tartan as it's called has to be matched perfectly, so it doesn't look crooked. This alone takes a huge amount of cloth. The nine yards is the area of the fabric the tailor starts with, much of which ends up as scrap.
Additionally, a kilt does not simply wrap around the waist. It also includes fabric that is worn up and over the shoulder.
Old style kilts were used as blankets, toweling, or whatever else came to mind. There is a tale about one man using his to escape from a window of his lady-friend's bedchamber when her husband came home early. Needless to say he had to streak across to his horse and home.
Unfortunately, this turned out rather like those "Dumb Crook" cases you hear about now. Because each kilt was a specific Tartan, the husband had no trouble at all identifying the culprit.
Thanks to Ceruleann, Neuticals, and K. Paull
from Origin of Phrases (http://members.aol.com/MorelandC/Phrases.htm)
03-21-2000, 09:53 PM
I don't have any definative evidence as to the origins of the term, but one thing Cecil said in the column itself was that he would welcome historical references to the use of the phrase.
Bob Vila, formerly of "This Old House" and now of "Home Again" claimed on an episode of "Home Again" taped in 1995 that the term "the whole nine yards" does indeed have to do with taking the full cement truck load of nine yards of cement.
Not a great help I realize, but it is something.
"The truth does not make a good story; that's why we have art."
03-23-2000, 12:44 AM
I think by historical references Cecil is looking for things that predate the 50's. If you found an authentic WWII reference to ammo belts coming in nine yard lengths, that would work. A Bob Vila comment in 1995 won't.
Now if Bob Vila has a reference, by all means supply it.
03-23-2000, 09:22 PM
Originally posted by Arnold Winkelried:
OK, well I think the answer below has some merit, especially since the originator went to some trouble to figure it out. [QUOTE]"The whole nine yards" refers to the amount of fabric in a proper Scottish kilt.
I was going to mention Kilts when I saw this topic come up some time ago, but decided after a bit of checking that it was probably -- although not certainly -- another red herring.
My kilt, made by "Wm MacIntosh & Company" of Edinburgh consists as most modern kilts do, of 8 yards of heavy woolen fabric, woven to about 28" width -- although some fabrics are woven twice that width and then split.
The original Great Kilts, to quote Tartan Web, "would comprise about 12 ells of fabric (an ell in Scotland was just over a yard) which would be split and stitched together to form a very broad plaid some 6 yards long and perhaps up to 2 yards and more wide."
So... Modern Kilts consist of 8 yards, Great Kilts of 12 odd square yards, although Tartan Web adds: "We normally recommend a length of about four and a half yards to form a Great Kilt"... so 4 1/2 x 2 = 9 square yards... so maybe...
For more details see: http://www.scottish-selection.com/tweb/index.htm
03-24-2000, 02:08 PM
This particular topic is being debated all over the 'net, and references to Cecil even have popped up in those discussions. Looks like most agree that the origin of this phrase is unknown, and that most of the theories suggested here can be disproven.
Specifically, "More of the Straight Dope" is cited as a reference to the average size of cement mixers:
Any similarities between your reality and mine are purely coincidental.
03-24-2000, 02:17 PM
"According to the OED 2d, its first use was noted in 1970 in (a) periodical called "Word Watching." "WW" was published by G.C. Merriam, but it seems to have been discontinued."
Found this quote on another site debating the origin. Anyone happen to have a copy?
Any similarities between your reality and mine are purely coincidental.
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