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  #51  
Old 01-26-2011, 04:48 PM
Zyada Zyada is offline
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Originally Posted by Cheshire Human View Post
"Black Sheep Squadron" was about a US Marine Corps squadron (VMF-214) that flew F-4U Corsairs. The squadron commander, Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, had flown with the Flying Tigers, but the show itself was about his later career in the USMC, commanding that squadron.

Wiki.

[/hijack]
Ouch. And I made that mistake after I read this:

Quote:
John Wayne's character is nicknamed "Pappy." This was real-life Marine fighter ace Gregory Boyington's moniker. Boyington (the inspiration for the TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep) did in fact fly with the Tigers until early 1942, at that point parting ways with the AVG and returning to the United States in order to be reinstated in the Marine Corps. However, Boyington was not the inspiration for Wayne's character. "Pappy" was a common nickname for an older man, particularly as a military commander, in those days. Besides this, Boyington was not widely known as "Pappy" until late 1943, when he commanded VMF-214 (the Black Sheep Squadron), well after this movie was released.
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  #52  
Old 01-26-2011, 06:19 PM
Xema Xema is offline
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Originally Posted by Zyada View Post
The P-40 was equipped with 6 M2 Browning machine guns that took 150-200 .50 inch rounds a piece. This equates to each gun taking up to one hundred inches of ammunition. That's eight inches short of three yards. If the belts have ~ 1 mm between rounds, it's right at 3 yards per gun, 9 yards per side and 18 yards total per aircraft.
Here's a picture of "belted" 50 caliber ammunition. If those copper-clad bullets are 0.5" in diameter, it looks as if each round occupies something close to an inch. So 150 would be a touch over 4 yards.
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  #53  
Old 01-29-2011, 07:15 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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I just got an E-mail in reply to the letter I sent to Wegner on January 11th. The E-mail is from his daughter Julie Wegner Arnold, who is a professor of French at Alma College (where Wegner taught). In my E-mail, I included the list from post 23 of all nine uses of the phrase between 1962 and 1966. I give the entire E-mail below, but notice the following things: The E-mail says something about my previously having written him and E-mailed him, but it wasn't me that did that. I suspect that the people at Alma College are remembering some letter and E-mail sent to him by somebody else (probably somebody in the American Dialect Society mailing list) and assuming that I also wrote that letter and E-mail.

Wegner thinks that the phrase has something to do with shipyards in World War II. Interestingly, at some point somebody found a reference in congressional debates during World War II to "the whole nine yards" in reference to nine shipyards. The assumption up to now has been that this was simply an accidental use of the phrase to talk about all nine shipyards under discussion in that debate. It's possible that that was just accidental and it's possible that somehow the term spread and was heard by Wegner. It's possible that Wegner is inserting a story he heard much later into his memories (as often happens among almost everybody).

samclem and Tammi Terrell, you can go ahead and notify the American Dialect Society people about this E-mail. I will be E-mailing Arnold and telling her that I've never seen the magazine the story appeared in nor even the whole story. Here's the E-mail I received:

Dear Mr. Wagner,

My colleagues in the English department at Alma College recently brought to my attention the second letter you wrote to my father in their care and also mentioned that you have contacted them by e-mail in hopes of reaching him.

Some months ago I took your original letter to my father. I apologize that he never responded to you. He will soon turn 82, has chronic memory problems, and he suffers from a lack of motivation. Yesterday I shared your second letter with him, and we went on line to the link you provided and read the quote from "Man on the Thresh-Hold" in which the expression "the whole nine yards" appears. My father wrote and published numerous short stories, and since this one was written nearly 50 years ago, at this point he does not specifically recall writing it. Nonetheless he laughed enthusiastically as I read the quote from the story and said that it sounds indeed like something he wrote. My mother and I also agree that this passage sounds just like him and is typical of his style and subject matter (friction or lack of communication between man and wife; enumeration of domestic realities or responsibilities; mention of a left-handed college professor, which he is and was). Too, my mother bought Fuller brushes! However, to be absolutely sure that he is the author, it will be best to have him read the story in its entirety so that he can better recognize it. To jump start my search, can you tell me the library in which you found the fall, 1962 issue of Michigan Voices? He has never been very good about cataloguing his own work or keeping copies easily identifiable in his own library.

In the meantime, my father is quite lucid about what believes to be the origin of "the whole nine yards." He did not hesitate to say that he thought it derived from a WWII program to arm the nation and specifically build the navy. He thought it referred to ship building yards on the east coast and always thought there were nine of them, though he couldn't verify that for sure. However, he says that he personally has always used to term "to express extravagance, or an all-out effort."

I hope this is somewhat helpful and look forward to hearing from you.


Julie Wegner Arnold
Professor of French
Alma College
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  #54  
Old 01-30-2011, 12:20 AM
Irishman Irishman is online now
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Just one question: how many yards have we gone so far to answer this question?
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  #55  
Old 01-30-2011, 10:26 AM
Tammi Terrell Tammi Terrell is offline
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Thanks for your efforts on this front, Wendell Wagner! I hope you'll be able to follow up with the younger Prof. Wegner (or, rather, Wegner Arnold) soon.

samclem or I can probably help you with getting a copy of the full short story, if that helps. (Another member of the ADS-L found the complete work.) But I don't think the authorship is in question -- I'm sure you've found the creator of "Man on the Thresh-Hold."

I wonder if I could ask a few further questions, though. (I'm sure other readers here will pipe up, too.)

In your letter, did you happen to ask the elder Prof. Wegner how he may have first encountered the expression? I recognize his memory may be failing, so it may be difficult for him to know exactly how he became acquainted with the phrase, but it would be helpful to see what he can recall. (It might be helpful to ask his wife the same question. Presumably she was familiar with the expression, at least by the time her husband wrote the story.)

Also, were you able to ask a bit about his background? You probably should let him volunteer this information and avoid fishing for specifics (like asking him whether he ever served in the military or whether he had a side interest in aviation), but it would be interesting to see what he reveals.

Last edited by Tammi Terrell; 01-30-2011 at 10:29 AM..
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  #56  
Old 01-30-2011, 02:02 PM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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I just got a second E-mail from Julie Wegner Arnold. As you remember from the first E-mail, the Wegner family wasn't certain that he was the author of the story. Wegner said that he wrote a number of stories back then and couldn't be certain that he wrote that one. Arnold said that the story sounded like something that her father wrote. As you can see in the E-mail below, they are now certain that it was his story. Wegner searched through some folders with his stories and found that one.

Tammi Terrell, I would rather not be the one to bother the Wegner family with too many E-mails. Is it possible for someone in the American Dialect Society Listserv to take over the communication with Arnold at this point? I would give her E-mail address to the person who will do that. Alternately, if you want me to be the one who contacts her, I would like the people at the American Dialect Society to compose the E-mail so we can ask the necessary questions in as few E-mails as possible.

Here is the E-mail I just got from Julie Wegner Arnold:

Hello again, Mr. Wagner,

Since I sent you the e-mail yesterday, my father located a folder in which he had stored several slender issues of Michigan Voices, all of which contain submissions by him. This includes the Fall, 1962 issue containing "Man on the Thresh-hold." There is no doubt that he wrote the story.

I hope my e-mails are helpful to you. Good luck with your on-going research.


Julie Wegner Arnold

Here is the text of the letter I sent to Robert E. Wegner (via his English Department address):

Dear Mr. Wegner,

Are you the Robert E. Wegner who wrote the story “Man on the Thresh-Hold” in the Fall 1962 issue of Michigan’s Voices? If so, you could be part of the solution of one of the major problems in the etymology of American English. The origin of the phrase “the whole nine yards” has been mystifying etymologists for decades. The phrase was never attested before the 1960’s, but it’s now very common. There are only nine uses of the phrase in print between 1962 and 1966:

1. Fall, 1962, "the whole nine yards" and "the whole damn nine yards" in a short story appearing in a Michigan literary magazine, http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/wordroutes/1783/

2. December, 1962, "all nine yards of" in a letter to Car Life, http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/langu...es/005107.html

3. April, 1964, "the whole nine yards" in a syndicated newspaper article about NASA slang, http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/langu...es/004623.html

4. April, 1965, "the whole nine yards" in a newspaper article describing the completeness of a military training exercise, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=R6101&m=73644

5. December, 1965, "the whole nine yards" used to describe well-outfitted military uniforms, in a newspaper article, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=ADS-L&P=R2892

6. June, 1966, "the whole nine yards" in a newspaper article describing a collection of Indiana folklore, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...L=ads-l&P=6810

7. September, 1966, "the nine yards of" at a symposium of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...L=ads-l&P=5152

8. September, 1966, multiple instances of "the whole nine yards" in Wings of the Tiger: A Novel, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...&F=&S=&P=15082

9. 1966 (published early 1967), multiple instances of "the whole nine yards" (and variants) in Doom Pussy, e.g., http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...L=ads-l&P=3120 and http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php...ine_yards_the/ (Is there a concise listing elsewhere of all examples to be found in Doom Pussy?)

The origin of “the whole nine yards” is discussed frequently on the American Dialect Society Listserv, an E-mail-distributed discussion group about American English dialects (which I don’t read), and on the Straight Dope Message Board, an online message board about interesting difficult questions of all sorts (which I do regularly read). It just occurred to me to try to search online for anyone with the name Robert E. Wegner. Since you were teaching English at a college in Michigan in 1962, it struck me that you were the most likely person to have written this story.

If you are indeed the person who wrote this story, can you remember anything about using the phrase “the whole nine yards”? Was it something you commonly heard? Did you hear it from some particular other person? Is there anything else you can say about the phrase?

Sincerely,

Wendell Wagner, Jr.
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  #57  
Old 01-31-2011, 04:25 AM
Melbourne Melbourne is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reno Nevada View Post
"Sheets" are not "bent" to "yards" on a sailing vessel; a sheet is a line leading to the lower corner of a sail. Any three-masted full-rigged ship from reasonably late in the age of sail would have had more than 9 yards; that would indicate a course, a topsail, and a t'gallent on each mast. In the 18th and 19th centuries most ships would have split topsails, split t'gallents, and likely a royal if not a skyscraper yard. The Flying Cloud looks to have had 15 yards.

And it is extremely unlikely that a phrase originating in sailing ships would first appear in the 1960's.
You didn't think that they sewed the whole length of the rope onto the bottom corrner of the sail did you? You have to bend the sails: in particular, you have to bend the sheet(s) onto the clew(s).

That is, you have to tie the sails to your masts, and attach control lines to the loose corners of your sails.
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  #58  
Old 01-31-2011, 02:50 PM
CurtC CurtC is offline
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Interesting that yet another meaning of "yard" has come up here in this letter from Ms. Arnold and Mr. Wegner. Out of all the proposed origins of the phrase that have come up before, have any referred to "ship yards"? It's a new one on me, anyway, but I have to admit that I don't follow the topic as closely as some here do.
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  #59  
Old 01-31-2011, 03:05 PM
Irishman Irishman is online now
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Yes, there was a reference to a Navy report to Congress or some such that came up from IIRC WWII, where they were talking about getting the naval ship yards into production, and there being 9 naval shipyards. There was a passing reference to getting "all nine yards" working. IIRC.

So far it has been discounted because of timing (WWII, with no other related usage anywhere), and the nature of the quote. It's entirely possible that Wegner heard this explanation somewhere and is now repeating it. Part of the reason for wanting follow up questions.
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  #60  
Old 01-31-2011, 04:29 PM
Crazyhorse Crazyhorse is offline
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The phrase was used by Admiral Emory Land in April 1942 during testimony for a senate investigation of the national defense program. It's been cited before but I always took this to be a purely coincidental use of the phrase. It seems unlikely that senate sub-committee testimony would even make it's way into the popular vernacular. If it did it is still a mystery why it didn't appear in print anywhere for 20 more years.

Quote:
You have to increase from 7.72 to 12 for the average at the bottom of that fifth column, for the whole nine yards.
There's another known early use of the term from as far back as 1855 - a short story called The Judge's Big Shirt, which is also clearly coincidental.

Quote:
I told her to get just enough to make three shirts; instead of making three she has put the whole nine yards into one shirt!
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  #61  
Old 01-31-2011, 05:31 PM
Zyada Zyada is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Irishman View Post
So far it has been discounted because of timing (WWII, with no other related usage anywhere), and the nature of the quote. It's entirely possible that Wegner heard this explanation somewhere and is now repeating it. Part of the reason for wanting follow up questions.
That brings up the question of "what does it take for a phrase to become a common idiom?" Consider the length of time between the production of the video for "Never gonna give you up" and the term rickrolling.

The 60s marks the maturation of the third of three major non-print forms of mass communication: movies, radio and TV. There were three movies just about the "Flying Tigers"* and who knows how many movies about WWII itself, as well as newsreels. In addition, the same M2 gun was used in a number of planes and in as a stand alone rifle, and that gun is still in use - so the phrase could have come out of the Korean war and been later attributed to the more popular war.

If it came from the nine shipyards, that phrase could have been used in a newsreel about bringing the shipyards up to speed. This, or newsreel footage about any one of the different military organizations using the M2 rifle may have been re-introduced to the public at large via an early 50s (1954, I think) TV series that was basically a overview of WWII using mostly newsreel footage.

I'm not saying that it is definitively the shipyards, or definitively the M2. But I don't think a twenty year time lag between the events that shaped the phrase and the first (known) print occurance.



*Ok, two movies about the fighting unit and one that used the unit's name in its script.
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  #62  
Old 01-31-2011, 07:08 PM
Tammi Terrell Tammi Terrell is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wendell Wagner View Post
Tammi Terrell, I would rather not be the one to bother the Wegner family with too many E-mails. Is it possible for someone in the American Dialect Society Listserv to take over the communication with Arnold at this point?
I think you're doing fine, Wendell Wagner. The Wegner family seems interested in this little etymological mystery and I can't see that you're in danger of annoying anyone. Still, given that you're experiencing some discomfort over this, it's fine to bring in someone else.

I took the liberty of contacting Stephen Goranson (perhaps you've heard from him?), who discovered the Fall, 1962 sighting in "Man on the Thresh-hold" and who announced it on the American Dialect Society Listserv, and he confirmed that he had been trying to contact Prof. Wegner about the short story. Stephen's initial contact elicited no response. He recently tried again with an e-mail or two to folks at Alma College; one of these e-mail messages made its way to Judith Wegner Arnold. It took your contacting Prof. Wegner (and his daughter) to get the ball rolling, though. Apparently, there's some confusion about who's been sending letters and e-mails, but at least the lines of communication are now open, thanks to your effort here.

Stephen is following up with Prof. Wegner and his daughter, so perhaps he'll learn a bit more about how Prof. Wegner came to know the phrase. Incidentally, Stephen also first promoted Land's testimony about "the whole nine [ship]yards" as a possible source for the phrase, so he's quite interested in the reply you received from the Wegner family. I'm sure he'll report on whatever he learns from his further communications with Prof. Wegner.

Stephen reminded me that I had left out from the list in post #23 a 1965 sighting of "the whole nine yards." I'll update the list some other time, but here's the relevant data that's missing.

Quote:
Fall, 1965, "'the whole nine yards' as the teenagers say," in notes from the Class of '41 (West Point), http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=ADS-L&P=R6912
Thanks for your help with this, Wendell Wagner.
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  #63  
Old 01-30-2012, 06:34 AM
Bart B. Bart B. is offline
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I find these comments on the origin of the "9 yards" phrase most interesting. Having just been in a discussion about how it came about with several ex military folks, many of them believe it did originate with the length of aircraft machine gun belts. Some dating back to the WWI era's biplanes.

An on line search of WWI and WWII USA aircraft armament specs and "rounds per gun" for both 30 and 50 caliber came up with everything but 9 yards. Data observed ran from 5.2 to 39 yards; none at 9.0 yards.
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  #64  
Old 01-31-2012, 07:14 PM
TriPolar TriPolar is offline
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Has anybody considered that 'yard' may refer to money? I first heard the term used to mean $100, but apparently it more commonly refers to $1000. Then looking this up I see that in Europe the term 'yard' is used as slang for 'milliard', apparently 1 billion.
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  #65  
Old 01-31-2012, 07:51 PM
samclem samclem is online now
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
Has anybody considered that 'yard' may refer to money? I first heard the term used to mean $100, but apparently it more commonly refers to $1000. Then looking this up I see that in Europe the term 'yard' is used as slang for 'milliard', apparently 1 billion.
Yeah, we've considered it. The money conotation is rather more recent.
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  #66  
Old 02-06-2012, 08:42 AM
Patch Patch is offline
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To me, the phrase brings to mind a sarcastic comment about a bad football player who couldn't score first downs.

"How's Davis do in the game yesterday?"

"Oh, he played flawlessly. He gave them the whole nine yards all afternoon."

Yeah, weak, but it's what I think about.
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  #67  
Old 02-06-2012, 09:35 AM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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None of the early uses of "the whole nine yards" is part of a sentence in which someone gives the whole nine yards or takes the whole nine yards but rather one in which something is the whole nine yards.
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  #68  
Old 02-06-2012, 09:54 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Patch View Post
To me, the phrase brings to mind a sarcastic comment about a bad football player who couldn't score first downs.

"How's Davis do in the game yesterday?"

"Oh, he played flawlessly. He gave them the whole nine yards all afternoon."

Yeah, weak, but it's what I think about.
I've also seen an "explanation" in which early football had nine yards instead of ten yards for a first down, so making a down was the whole nine yards.

The problem with both is that there's not a particle of evidence to back them up. They're both stories that people invent because putting a pattern on something seems better than ignorance even though it's based in ignorance and adds more. That's the whole nine yards of folk etymology.
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  #69  
Old 02-07-2012, 06:56 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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MODERATOR ALERT: This thread has been idle for a year, until Bart B.'s comment (in post #63) reawakened it. That's fine, no problem, I just want to alert folks -- some of the people who made earlier comments may have forgot what they said, may not be around to reply, etc.
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Old 02-08-2012, 12:07 AM
Patch Patch is offline
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
I've also seen an "explanation" in which early football had nine yards instead of ten yards for a first down, so making a down was the whole nine yards.

The problem with both is that there's not a particle of evidence to back them up. They're both stories that people invent because putting a pattern on something seems better than ignorance even though it's based in ignorance and adds more. That's the whole nine yards of folk etymology.
But it's fun to talk about.

And we're not stopping until this thread has gone the whole nine yards!

Or not. The thread is kinda petering out.

Last edited by Patch; 02-08-2012 at 12:10 AM..
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  #71  
Old 02-08-2012, 06:44 AM
Telemark Telemark is offline
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Originally Posted by Patch View Post
Or not. The thread is kinda petering out.
Don't worry, a new thread with the same topic will show up, almost magically, in roughly 3 months. It's like clockwork.
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  #72  
Old 08-05-2012, 11:24 AM
Tammi Terrell Tammi Terrell is offline
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For what it's worth, here's an updated list showing newly found sightings (items 1 through 3) of "the whole nine yards." Item 7, a new entry for this list, was discovered last summer. Sadly, these sightings don't help to reveal what "nine yards" may have originally signified, but at least we can now push the phrase back in time a little.

1. July, 1956, "the whole nine-yards" in an article about a fishing competition, appearing in Kentucky Happy Hunting Ground (a magazine put out by Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources), http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=ADS-L&P=R4219 and http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/wo...le-nine-yards/

2. January, 1957, "the whole nine yards" in a column about camping, again in Kentucky Happy Hunting Ground, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=ADS-L&P=R4219 and http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/wo...le-nine-yards/

3, March, 1962, "the entire nine yards" in a column about gearing up for fishing season, again in Kentucky Happy Hunting Ground, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=ADS-L&P=R4436

4. Fall, 1962, "the whole nine yards" and "the whole damn nine yards" in a short story appearing in a Michigan literary magazine, http://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/wordroutes/1783/

5. December, 1962, "all nine yards of" in a letter to Car Life, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=ads-l&P=R5767

6. April, 1964, "the whole nine yards" in a syndicated newspaper article about NASA slang, http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/langu...es/004623.html

7. 1964, "the whole 'nine yards,' as they say, of exhaustive physiological tests," in Aerospace Pilot, a book written for the younger set, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...L=ADS-L&P=R343

8. April, 1965, "the whole nine yards" in a newspaper article describing the completeness of a military training exercise, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=ADS-L&P=R6101

9. Fall, 1965, "'the whole nine yards' as the teenagers say," in notes from the Class of '41 (West Point), http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=ADS-L&P=R6912

10. December, 1965, "the whole nine yards" used to describe well-outfitted military uniforms, in a newspaper article, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...=ADS-L&P=R2892

11. June, 1966, "the whole nine yards" in a newspaper article describing a collection of Indiana folklore, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...L=ads-l&P=6810

12. September, 1966, "the nine yards of" at a symposium of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...L=ads-l&P=5152

13. September, 1966, multiple instances of "the whole nine yards" in Wings of the Tiger: A Novel, http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...&F=&S=&P=15082

14. 1966 (published early 1967), multiple instances of "the whole nine yards" (and variants) in Doom Pussy, e.g., http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...L=ads-l&P=3120 and http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php...ine_yards_the/ (Is there a concise listing elsewhere of all examples to be found in Doom Pussy?)
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  #73  
Old 08-06-2012, 05:28 AM
gamerunknown gamerunknown is offline
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Originally Posted by Princhester
"good margin" "close second"
Could be that it was close to third place, though that wouldn't be standard usage.
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  #74  
Old 08-06-2012, 06:42 AM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is offline
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Thanks for the updates, Tammi. Like so many others I'm engrossed by the hunt for the origins of this phrase and that interview with Ron Rhody who authored the 1957 article using the whole nine yards was absolutely fascinating.
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  #75  
Old 08-05-2015, 09:48 AM
Melbourne Melbourne is offline
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Google is now giving another (presumably unrelated) old source: "A Military Dictionary and Gazetteer: Comprising Ancient and Modern Military Technical Terms".https://books.google.com.au/books?id...IVIcemCh1JwgQx
However, since google isn't giving any details, I have no idea what it says, or if it has been mis-reported.
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  #76  
Old 08-05-2015, 05:46 PM
samclem samclem is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Melbourne View Post
Google is now giving another (presumably unrelated) old source: "A Military Dictionary and Gazetteer: Comprising Ancient and Modern Military Technical Terms".https://books.google.com.au/books?id...IVIcemCh1JwgQx
However, since google isn't giving any details, I have no idea what it says, or if it has been mis-reported.
If you search that book instead for whole nine, it does still go to page 206, but it highlight only the word "whole." So, the optical character recognition for the phrase is a false hit.
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  #77  
Old 08-06-2015, 01:22 AM
Ranger Jeff Ranger Jeff is offline
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When I first heard the phrase, I thought it was referring to a type of 3 masted ship that had 3 yardarms on each mast. But I can't imagine anyone coming up with a phrase to describe something about a ship of this type in the 1960s.
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  #78  
Old 08-06-2015, 04:42 AM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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The link below goes to the most recent thread on the SDMB about this issue. It contains updated information about the origin of this phrase. Please, please, please read all of it before you comment further in this thread. There's no point in us discussing the matter without referring to the new information found in the link below:

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/...d.php?t=676856
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  #79  
Old 08-06-2015, 08:59 AM
Tibby or Not Tibby Tibby or Not Tibby is offline
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I read the link with updates, Wendell—very interesting.

But, I have a question about the date distribution of the discovered printed examples of the phrase. There appears to be a couple of decade cluster of 6-yard and 9-yard versions of the phrase before 1921; and a couple of decade cluster of the 9-yard version after 1956.

What could account for an obscure phrase popping back into popular usage after a 35 year layoff? Is the assumption that was still in verbal usage during that time, but just not put into print; rediscovered by a newer generation from older sources (e.g. their grandparents); or something else?
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  #80  
Old 08-07-2015, 03:59 PM
Cartoonacy Cartoonacy is offline
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Originally Posted by Melbourne View Post
Google is now giving another (presumably unrelated) old source: "A Military Dictionary and Gazetteer: Comprising Ancient and Modern Military Technical Terms".https://books.google.com.au/books?id...IVIcemCh1JwgQx
However, since google isn't giving any details, I have no idea what it says, or if it has been mis-reported.
On page 552, it says: "Each baron, knight, or other commander in feudal times, had a recognized standard, which was distributed among his followers. The length of the standard varied according to the rank of the bearer. A king's standard was from 8 to 9 yards in length; a duke's, 7 yards; a marquis's, 6 1/2 yards; an earl's, 6 yards; a viscount's, 5 1/2 yards, a baron's, 5 yards; a banneret's, 4 1/2 yards; and a knight's, 4 yards."
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  #81  
Old 08-07-2015, 04:19 PM
samclem samclem is online now
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Originally Posted by Cartoonacy View Post
On page 552, it says: "Each baron, knight, or other commander in feudal times, had a recognized standard, which was distributed among his followers. The length of the standard varied according to the rank of the bearer. A king's standard was from 8 to 9 yards in length; a duke's, 7 yards; a marquis's, 6 1/2 yards; an earl's, 6 yards; a viscount's, 5 1/2 yards, a baron's, 5 yards; a banneret's, 4 1/2 yards; and a knight's, 4 yards."
The "hit" wasn't on p.552 but rather p. 206 and it was a false hit.
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  #82  
Old 08-07-2015, 04:47 PM
Cartoonacy Cartoonacy is offline
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OK. But a search on "9 yards" did get that hit.
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  #83  
Old 08-07-2015, 07:39 PM
dropzone dropzone is online now
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"The whole nine yards" refers to the length of a suburban, residential block, one side of the street.



Let's see if that one catches on!
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  #84  
Old 08-08-2015, 04:02 AM
Melbourne Melbourne is offline
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It's pushing back closer to 1855 The Judges shirt

--which looks like column filler that was widely reprinted. When the first "9 yards" sighting was 1955, that was clearly unrelated. Now I'm going to wonder if it was a riff on a common expression even then.
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  #85  
Old 08-08-2015, 07:05 AM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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Melbourne, what are you linking to? When I click on that link, I get a page with a title of "July 5, 1855" and a list of 31 things. Each of those things has two links after it, one of which says "DJVU" and the other of which says "PDF". One of the 31 things says "The Judge's Big Shirt", so I presume that that's what you what us to link to. I get a mostly blank page when I click on the DJVU link after that, so instead I clink on the PDF link. I get a page telling me to click on a link within it. When I do, I get a newspaper in tiny print which I can't increase the size of. It's The Puget Sound Courier for July 5, 1855. Where on that page is anything about "the whole nine yards"? I tried using my Find function on that page and found nothing.
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Old 08-08-2015, 07:34 AM
Crazyhorse Crazyhorse is offline
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Originally Posted by Wendell Wagner View Post
Melbourne, what are you linking to? When I click on that link, I get a page with a title of "July 5, 1855" and a list of 31 things. Each of those things has two links after it, one of which says "DJVU" and the other of which says "PDF". One of the 31 things says "The Judge's Big Shirt", so I presume that that's what you what us to link to. I get a mostly blank page when I click on the DJVU link after that, so instead I clink on the PDF link. I get a page telling me to click on a link within it. When I do, I get a newspaper in tiny print which I can't increase the size of. It's The Puget Sound Courier for July 5, 1855. Where on that page is anything about "the whole nine yards"? I tried using my Find function on that page and found nothing.
See post #60 of this thread.
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Old 08-08-2015, 12:35 PM
Irishman Irishman is online now
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Originally Posted by Wendell Wagner View Post
When I do, I get a newspaper in tiny print which I can't increase the size of. It's The Puget Sound Courier for July 5, 1855. Where on that page is anything about "the whole nine yards"? I tried using my Find function on that page and found nothing.
I found it on page 4 of the pdf. It is in Poetry and Literature, an joke told as an anecdote about a prank that a lawyer played on his lawyer pal who was known for being unprepared.

One lawyer goes on a business trip, and finds that he needs a clean shirt for the next day. Ready-made shirts aren't available, all shirts are custom tailored. His buddy, hearing of his plight, plays a prank. He had the seamstress make 1 shirt out of 9 yards of material (and 3 yards of linen). So the guy had to wear the oversized shirt stuffed into his britches.

The comment is something like "I told her to buy enough to make 3 shirts and she put the whole nine yards into one shirt. "

It appears to be coincidental, but it is not impossible it is a shaggy dog story using an existing phrase.

I have no idea if it actually tales 3 yards to make a typical shirt.
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  #88  
Old 08-09-2015, 12:33 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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International clinics: a quarterly of clinical lectures
J.B. Lippincott., 1894

"... do not be stingy with your bandages, but use the full nine yards."


https://books.google.com.au/books?id...IV5K7bCh1iaQCH
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  #89  
Old 08-09-2015, 03:26 PM
jbaker jbaker is offline
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Thank you, Peter Morris, that is excellent. I have shared your finding with the American Dialect Society. This volume does not show up on books.google.com, as far as I can tell, which explains why it was not previously known; I'm not sure why it should make a difference that you used books.google.com.au, but apparently it does.

Linguists have known about "The Judge's Big Shirt" for a while, and the consensus is that this is just a literal use of "nine yards."
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  #90  
Old 08-09-2015, 10:09 PM
John W. Kennedy John W. Kennedy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Morris View Post
International clinics: a quarterly of clinical lectures
J.B. Lippincott., 1894

"... do not be stingy with your bandages, but use the full nine yards."


https://books.google.com.au/books?id...IV5K7bCh1iaQCH
Can this be traced forward to the 50s or 60s? It seems promising.
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  #91  
Old 08-09-2015, 10:38 PM
jbaker jbaker is offline
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The American Dialect Society response: It turns out that leg bandages from this era were normally 9 yards long, so this is probably just a literal use of the words and not the modern phrase. The earliest confirmed uses of the phrase are not suggestive of bandages or medicine, so it is unlikely that this represents the phrase's origin.
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  #92  
Old 08-10-2015, 04:23 PM
Irishman Irishman is online now
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That seems odd. Wouldn't any source for the phrase need to be nine yards long? Many faulty proposed sources use the idea of being exactly nine yards long as their justification. Here's something that actually was nine yards long. Why does that make it unlikely?
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  #93  
Old 08-10-2015, 04:42 PM
jbaker jbaker is offline
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Irishman: There really are two questions that we are interested in, and this early quote in principle could be relevant to either. First, is this, in fact, the modern phrase? And the answer appears to be no, the lecturer was just referring to the length of a bandage. If bandages of this type instead came 20 feet to a roll, he would have said "use the full 20 feet."

The second question is whether nine-yard bandages might be the origin of "the full/whole nine yards." And the answer is, well, maybe, but we don't really have any evidence of that. This one obscure example aside, hardly anyone was referring to nine yards of bandages. And there are lots of things that come in measurements of nine yards and are candidates for the phrase's origin. Nine yards of bandage is not inherently more plausible than, say, nine yards of cloth or a document nine yards long.
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  #94  
Old 08-10-2015, 04:46 PM
watchwolf49 watchwolf49 is online now
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It takes 7 yards to sew a kilt ...
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  #95  
Old 08-10-2015, 11:07 PM
Tammi Terrell Tammi Terrell is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tibby or Not Tibby View Post
But, I have a question about the date distribution of the discovered printed examples of the phrase. There appears to be a couple of decade cluster of 6-yard and 9-yard versions of the phrase before 1921; and a couple of decade cluster of the 9-yard version after 1956.

What could account for an obscure phrase popping back into popular usage after a 35 year layoff? Is the assumption that was still in verbal usage during that time, but just not put into print; rediscovered by a newer generation from older sources (e.g. their grandparents); or something else?
Several years ago I tracked down and interviewed the gentleman responsible for those 1956 and 1957 uses of the idiom in Kentucky Happy Hunting Grounds. Ron Rhody was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1933, and wrote for the magazine when he was fresh out of college. When queried about his experience with the expression, he replied that he had known it his whole life and that, he claimed, everyone around him when he was young was familiar with it too. (In fact, when we chatted over the phone he mentioned he couldn't get over that anyone was at all interested in the idiom's history and, further, that it was the object of some fascination for professional and amateur linguists.)

It's possible there's something to his claim of a regional familiarity with "the whole nine yards" because Ferd Holtmann, who was responsible for a March, 1962 usage in the same magazine (this time, "the entire nine yards," clearly a closely related variant), was born in 1936 in Cincinnati, but spent his childhood and young adulthood just south, over the Ohio River, in Park Hills, Kentucky, about 70 miles north of Frankfort. (Rhody told me that he and Holtmann hadn't overlapped at the magazine and that he wasn't aware that they had ever met.) Now, I'm of course just guessing that Holtmann had similarly known the expression since childhood, but it's not out of the question.

Rhody's response suggests to me, at least, that the idiom was certainly in use orally and informally in that "35-year layoff," but rarely appeared in printed publications, and even then really only in small-town newspapers or in "folksy" venues, such as a fishing and hunting magazine. It's possible we'd find uses in private letters or diaries kept from that period, but that always requires quite a bit more digging.

Roy Wilder, Jr. (1914-1912) was a North Carolina newspaperman and political operative who collected folk sayings and expressions during his travels across the state. He published his collection as You All Spoken Here (first edition, 1984). There, he included "all nine yards of it" as a means of saying "the whole wad and all the trimmin's." Given the obvious age of most of entries in the book, I think (in retrospect) that Wilder's inclusion of the idiom has always hinted at the expression's longevity.

Last edited by Tammi Terrell; 08-10-2015 at 11:08 PM..
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  #96  
Old 08-11-2015, 12:09 AM
Wendell Wagner Wendell Wagner is online now
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I have a personal guess as to what happened. I believe that before the 1960's it was strictly a regional expression that appeared in a few isolated cases in local newspapers. At that point it wasn't even a settled phrase yet and some people said "the whole six yards." In the 1960's it began to become more of a general thing. I suspect that it crossed over into the rest of the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Many of the uses that have been found of the phrase at that time were related to the military, particularly to the Air Force. (Maybe it was introduced to those people from aircraft designers, since there are uses of it among engineers around that time.) There are a number of uses of it in the novels The Doom Pussy by Elaine Shepard and Wings of a Tiger by Carl Krueger, which were both set among pilots in the early part of the war. I suspect that the common story that it had something to do with World War II aircraft machine gun belt lengths was made up as a joke by pilots at that time. By the 1970's it was a common phrase all over the U.S. The first person to ask where the phrase came from was William Safire. The first known mention of it by him was on Larry King's radio show in 1982.

Incidentally, while writing this post, I just noticed that Elaine Shepard was an movie actress in the 1930's and 1940's who then became a journalist.
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  #97  
Old 08-12-2015, 01:18 PM
Cartoonacy Cartoonacy is offline
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Originally Posted by Tammi Terrell View Post
Roy Wilder, Jr. (1914-1912) ... published his collection ... (first edition, 1984).
Something doesn't add up there.
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  #98  
Old 08-12-2015, 04:31 PM
Tammi Terrell Tammi Terrell is offline
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Shhhhhh, copyright trap ...
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