the whole nine yards

I’m positive that there is a thread about this already, but with a lack of search function…i wouldn’t know where to begin.

I once heard that the origins of “the whole nine yards” was that airplanes in world war 2 had ammunition belts that were 9 yards long. So to give something “the whole nine yards” was to lean on the trigger and give your target every round, or “the whole nine yards”.

whether this is true or not, I was surprised that it didn’t make it onto the page with the rest of the suggested etymologies.

There is a little “Search” block on every page of SDMB!
What is the Origin of “The Whole Nine Yards”?
What? No search function? Do you not have access to,,, etc. etc. Search for: “The Whole Nine Yards”



The thread(s) you are thinking of would have all been in “Comments on Cecil’s columns. That’s because this question was addressed in one of Cecil’s columns “What’s the origin of “the whole nine yards”?

I’ve contacted a moderator and suggested this thread be moved the appropriate forum, so don’t be surprised if it’s not here when you come back.

If you become a member you can use the search function. (hint hint)

This explanation has been touted before but it seems incredibly unlikely since

  1. The phrase was never recorded in WWII.
  2. With WWII aircraft no pilot would boast about wasting so much ammo. Short controlled bursts were the order of the day.
  3. There’s no evidence of ammunition ever coming in 9 yard belts or any length that could readily produce 9 yard belts.

Moderator’s Note: Since this topic was indeed discussed in one of Cecil Adams’ columns (What’s the origin of “the whole nine yards”?), I’ll move this thread to our “Comments on Cecil’s Columns” forum.

Some previous discussions of the “whole nine yards” conundrum in CCC:

The Whole Nine Yards Explanation
yards, and nine of them …
the whole nine yards
The whole nine yards
The whole 9 yards…
The Whole Nine Yards
The whole nine yards
“the whole nine yards”
The whole nine yards…
did the whole nine yards issue ever get resolved
the real whole nine yards
The Whole Nine Yards, Another idea
The Whole Nine Yards

(Feel free to read those, but please don’t “bump” any of those old discussions, as it just tends to cause confusion.)

As you can see, we’ve been chewing this one over for some time now, but have never really gotten anywhere.

Only for members, not guests.

It did make it to every discussion of this I’ve ever seen, it’s probably the most commonly suggested theory. It runs across the same problem as many other theories: if the phrase had it’s origins in WWII (one of the best recorded events in history) why was it not been documented in any way until the 60s?


Because I was born shortly before the 60’s. It took a while for the nurses to disiminate the information.

In fact the phrase refers to my penis.

I have been reluctant to admit such on these forums until now. Partly because the psychic wounds I suffered in gym class and partly due to the jealousy I know I will suffer here because of this admission.

I am truly sorry for having caused so much trouble.

My goodness.

Well, this all stems from me reading the page that Blake refers to (That page being the one that does not mention this 9 yard ammo belt idea). I clicked “comment” thinking it’d be simple. Boy was I wrong. In any event, all I really wanted to do was see if this had been mentioned, because it seemed like if I’d heard of it, then certainly so must’ve “Cecil”. So I sighed and registered with the board knowing that to find a search function you usually have to register. So I did, but then I was still a guest? And I thought, what a weird board. I’ve registered and still no search function. So, knowing I’d be a putz, but not wanting to waste my by-the-minute-less-plausible idea simply because of a lack of search function, I just plunked it in the middle of "great debates"knowing that it’d get found and I’d get a little ribbing. I clearly misunderestimated [sic] the depth and breadth of this forum.

And now after trying to post THIS reply, I discover that you need to pay money to become a member. So, hint taken, but I don’t know that spending money to argue with you bunch (albeit, a polite and decidedly well educated bunch) is really worth it. I can argue with my not-so-polite but decidedly well educated friends for free. Besides, if I DID sign up here, I’d probably get fired. There’s just too much great stuff here. So, I’m going to drink beer until this website is stricken from my memory. Else I find myself homeless, unemployed and living under a 9 yard long section of overpass.


What a shame… With lines like that, you’d fit in wonderfully here.

Maybe some text could be added to the column page on this question to the effect that it’s the single-most-discussed topic on the boards (at least in the Cecil forum) and that contributors would do well to read one of the eighty-four zillion threads on the subject (with links) before offering yet another hypothetical bit of etymology.

Because dudebun sounds like a pleasant enough fellow, and it’s not his (assuming his) fault this comes up every couple of months, as regular as blue moons and NFL player convictions. Wouldn’t want to scare away the nice prospective Doper just because every time a new thread is created on the subject we all wail and gnash our breasts and beat our teeth at the repetition. Googolth time we’ve seen it != first thread for brand-new person.

Plus, you never know. One of these days somebody may turn up with the Holy Grail, the Mar 1944 issue of “Ammo Belt Weekly” or the Fall 1937 “Concrete Pourers and Fabric Bolt Transporters Quarterly” that puts this question to bed once and for all. Gotta keep the door open, even if it means we have people wandering into the party with a helpful smile and a bag of Funyuns to offer without realizing that we’ve long since gotten sick of the goddamn things. :slight_smile:

Hiya, and yes, I’ve perused all those threads. Many thanks to Aesiron for searching them out for me.

As a costumer I have noted that there are at least a few people convinced that the “whole nine yards” refers to the amount of fabric in a Scottish, large man’s formal kilt.

Nametag rather blithely declared this theory “demonstrably false”

I have combed said threads to see if there was any demonstration, as claimed. Not finding one, I will proceed with an argument or two. My apologies if there’s a big old negation of this line of thought that I missed.

It has been argued that if it were so, it would reference the Scottish unit of measurement, “ells”.
by Kilt-Wearin’ Man


  1. times change, measurements change, and the makers of garments may be obliged to alter their unit of to keep up with the times, both in ordering cloth from suppliers, and in marketing the garments to customers. This phrase is said to have a recent origin - the 1950’s or 60’s are the cited earliest written examples. Admittedly, this is speculation - but might the makers of kilts, very likely stubbornly archaic in many ways, have changed the unit of measure not too long ago? Thus the fairly new coinage.

  2. Note also the assertions that the preoccupations with kilts and tartans is fairly recent, dating from the 19th century. Thus, the “ell” as a unit of measure wouldn’t nessesarily come into it at all, vis. Fascinating Facts

" The first tailoring of the kilt (where the pleats were sewn in) was not done until the 1790’s. Even then, the first tailored kilts contained only four yards of cloth. They were box pleated, either to the stripe (in the military) or to no pattern at all (for civilian wear). Knife pleating and pleating to the sett, as I said earlier, did not come into fashion until the latter part of the nineteenth century. This fashion required more yards of cloth, increasing the amount used in most civilian kilts to about eight."

That particular article does not address the `nine yards’ phrase, but this one, from self-proclaimed experts and museum proprietors, seems to debunk and yet re-affirm the phrase at the same time.
“The “9-yard” myth has its foundation in the records of the 17th and 18th century that show where often 8 or 9 yards of tartan are purchased for the making of a belted plaid. What one needs to realize is that this material was only about 25” to 30” wide, and the plaid had to be wide enough to reach from the knees to above the head. So two widths of material would be sewn together to get a 50” to 60" width. Therefore 9 yards of tartan material would make a plaid 4.5 yards long. This corresponds with the earliest surviving tailored kilts we have, which all contain about 4 yards of cloth. Certainly 5 is enough for a man of any girth—too much for some. "

  1. and in fact, usual practice, until the recent centuries, was to hold the whole kilt together using a belt, not sewing.
    Great Kilt - Breacan Feile

So the phrase may’ve arisen when manufacture of sewn-together garments became popular - again, in the 19th century, it is asserted.

In any case, if you want to buy yourself a kilt, here’s some links: :slight_smile:

to make one, here’s a very detailed modern pattern:

from 1898:

with the fabric included:

in metric!

Ms.ter Sir Real

Maybe some text could be added to the column page on this question to the effect that it’s the single-most-discussed topic on the boards (at least in the Cecil forum) and that contributors would do well to read one of the eighty-four zillion threads on the subject (with links) before offering yet another hypothetical bit of etymology.

Without comment on the rest of the material you presented, I’d like to take the opportunity to pimp I don’t know how I managed to live as long as I have without mine.

Sir Real, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way as you are new around here.

All that your post does is to illustrate the biggest problem with the kilt hypothesis. Kilts come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and the variation becomes all the greater once you include ones from past centuries as well. Which is why there is no evidence that there was ever a standard length of cloth used in their manufacture. Searching for evidence that they specifically used nine yards (however you wish to define that) isn’t much use because you can equally locate examples of other lengths being used as well. You could therefore just as easily find references to support the theory if the phrase happened to be ‘the whole four yards’, ‘the whole five yards’ etc. In fact, the kilt hypothesis is, in that respect, probably more flexible than any of the others. In such matters, being able to bend or select the facts so easily to fit the theory only makes the theory less convincing.

What this means is that you’re going about this entirely the wrong way. Showing that something could be measured in nine yards proves absolutely nothing, as there are any number of things for which that could be true. Instead, what we need is some evidence - any evidence - that the phrase itself was used in connection with kilts, preferably in the 1960s or earlier. Without such evidence, the theory might not be ‘demonstrably false’, but it does carry no more weight than any of the many other unsupported theories that have been proposed. Or rather, it carries even less weight than some of the other unsupported theories, as they at least would explain why the earliest known examples of the phrase appeared in the USA.

I’m starting to think that “the whole nine yards” doesn’t mean anything at all, specifically, and that it was just a funny expression that caught on. I mean, nobody is going out looking for the Original Dish that prompted the phrase “the whole enchilada,” and nobody is testing centuries-old baking techniques to determine why “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

Why does “the whole nine yards” have to mean anything?

I agree with 1) and 2), but, as I posted in one of the prior posts on this topic, having taken the trouble to measure a short length of 50-calibre machine gun disintegrating-link ammo belt (the type used by most US WW2 and Korean War fighters) and extrapolate this to longer lengths of belt, I can say that a 400 round belt is almost exactly 9 yards long. While 400 round belts were not a standard (as far as I am aware there was no standard for length), they were used in some of the more common fighters of WW2 and Korea.

This of course, says nothing about the origin of the phrase, and is likely just one of those coincidences seized upon by eager and undiscriminating persons searching for a facile answer to the origin question.