The Whole Nine Yards

I’ve just read the suggestion that it refers to the length of machinegun ammo belts in WWII with Cecils refutation that the phrase didn’t show up until the mid 60s.

How long was the roll of gauze in Vietnam era military first aid kits?

1010011010 ¦¬)

I dont know, but I dont think gauze would have anything to do with it.
BTW, nice name.

This was just asked/talked about on the local FOX 5 in DC morning news. They ask a question every morning and a week or so ago this one came up and they said it came from WWII ammo belts.

According to the Search engine, this comes up about every 4 to 6 weeks. I will let you have the pleasure of rummaging around in there through the old threads, if you’re interested.

Here’s Cecil’s column on the subject. What’s the origin of “the whole nine yards”?

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Please include a link to Cecil’s column if it’s on the straight dope web site.
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Cecil’s column can be found on-line at the link provided by Duck Duck Goose.

The column (including Slug Signorino’s illustration) can also be found on pages 252-257 of Cecil Adams’ book «More of the Straight Dope».

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some previous discussions on the subject:

The whole 9 yards…

The whole nine yards

the whole nine yards

yards, and nine of them …

The Whole Nine Yards Explanation

I have read all of these posts and links with great enjoyment.

However, the logic on the ammo belts being the origin of the phrase would seem to be flawed - my Mother tells me that her grandparents (19th century dudes!) used the phrase and that it therefore predates WWII, WWI and indeed flying. Both of them were English and had no connection with the military or had even met anyone from the US.

The answer that it takes nine yards to make a proper suit is the one I have always understood to be true, and one that has been traced back to the 17th and 18th century - this predates all other explanations so far, ergo it must be the origin (until someone finds a use of the phrase that predates even that).

I am sure that “the whole nine yards” may have been applied to the ammo belts and attributed as the origin, but the evidence suggests otherwise. I thought that, maybe the origin of the phrase in the US was the ammo belts and that in the UK was the suits, but if the phrase was used in the US before WWII, then this cannot be true. Any senior SD members who can help out on this?

BTW, here is the link that discusses it, and it also has a list of other phrases with their origins.

Lion Killer

The reason why experts tend not to believe the “WWII ammo-belt” theory is because the phrase has never been used before the mid-1960s as far as anyone can tell.

The phrase have never come up in any documentation of WWII, and let’s face it: that was a rather well documented war. Why would a phrase that has its orgins in WWII not ever appear anywhere until almost two decades after the war’s end?

Oh oops. I meant to provide a link that says so. Without it I’m just parroting the OP…

bwanasimba, while your efforts are appreciated, your source is not very helpful. The page you cite makes no efforts to ensure the correct explanation. Indeed, if you look at a number of entries you will find multiple possible sources for the phrase, with no efforts to determine if either is correct. It is basically a collection of explanations sent in by people. They send in whatever phrase they’ve heard, and the explanation they’ve heard for it.

The original article and links provided by others have attempted to investigate the source of the phrasing by more than just asking what explanations have been heard. There is look into documenting the phrase in writing, and investigation of the veracity of the explanations given (i.e. ammo belts in WWII were not 9 yards long, the phrasing sounds wrong for some explanations, etc). These sources do not have a definitive explanation.

One of the few time the master has been stumped.

bwanasimba welcome aboard! To amplify Irishman’s reply, you would be adding much to the world’s knowledge if you could come up with a written source for the phrase that predates the 1960’s. Most phrases such as the whole nine yards have published examples within the general time period that they were first in common use. Assuming that this slang phrase was in use even at the turn of the century, much less your suggestion that it goes back into prior centuries, it would appear somewhere in print. To date, no one has found such an example prior to the 1960’s.

As to your assertion that her grandparents used it(according to your mom), this might take it back how far??? Certainly not the 19th Century. Assuming you to be 20, and your mom to be 42, her parents would be 64, and your greatgrandparents in their 80’s or 90’s, if alive, they were still, perhaps, born in this century, and could not have used the phrase in the 19th century.

Just being the devil’s advocate. I’m 16, my mother mid 40s, and her father would be 96 if still alive… So it’s highly probable that his parents were born last century :slight_smile:

You’re assuming people to be pretty young when having children, when it isn’t always the case.

(case in point, my father’s 50, and his father’s around 75. Making estimates like this generally doesn’t work too well…)

First, age.

My Grandfather was born in 1900 and died in 1980, making my great Grandparents most definitely 19th century dudes.

Second, sources(!)

Yes, woe is me, I couldn’t find any definitive written source for this either! Looks like I’m in good company though :wink: (I think this was a conspiracy to get the Teeming Millions whipped up into an intellectual lather…).

With the benefit of hindsight, I should have been explicit in my intentions for the post, namely:
[li]the search for the definitive written origin of the phrase may never be found. I accept that it is unusual for a phrase that may have been around for a long time not to appear anywhere, but the more slangy/pejorative/vulgar a phrase is, the less likely it would be to find its way into print. Also slang/dialect/swearing dating back a long way in a very small sub section of a community is much less likely to be committed to paper. I challenge British English speakers to find written references to the slang and dialectal phrases used by their grandparents (British, because I don’t know enough about US English - no offence!). The only one I can think of offhand that was published nationally is “Sons and Lovers” by DH Lawrence, and even that only gives a glimpse of the richness of dialect that was formerly used. The fullest written treatment of my own region’s (Lancashire) dialect (referred to as “Lanky Twang”) is in several local dictionaries/phrase books. Even this does not compare with my grandparents colourful terminology[/li][li]the reference site I linked, although not a true “reference” in the academic sense of the word, I found to be useful and it got me thinking - definitely a good thing. Thought you might all be interested.[/li][/ul]
Lastly, the suit explanation is the one I always understood to be true - hopefully acknowledging that I could not prove it, but I’d be prepared to settle for anecdotal “evidence” on this one.

Maybe we’re supposed to approach this one philosophically. Who knows? In 100 years time, Zen Buddhists all over the world might be musing on their favourite Koan - “What is the origin of the phrase: ‘The whole nine yards?’”.

Lion Killer

got to dash, but a had a couple of good leads on this one. Won’t be around for a few days, but hopeful I can get something firm on this.

If I don’t get back before, hope you all have a good Christmas.

Lion Killer

promised I’d get back on this, but I’m not sure if anyone will find this message.

In the absence of any firm answers on the Internet, I decided to do some primary research. Being a manager in a fairly large organisation gives me access to a lot of people, so at every chance over the last 4 weeks, I asked practically everyone I met what they thought the phrase meant and where it had come from. Everyone concurred on the meaning i.e. to go the extra mile, give it everything, do just what it takes etc. The origin was split between: something to do with golf, something to do with tayloring and “you should take some time off soon”. Not being too worried about my career evaporating before my eyes, I contacted the industry publication of Flight International (to find out more about the gun belt theory) and Drapers Record (to find out about the tayloring angle). I also contacted the Guild in London that deals with drapers (can’t remember name now, cause I have a proposal that is burning a hole in my desk and is due in 30 minutes and don’t you think I’m in enough trouble as it is…).

Anyways, none of these people seem to be as interested in the pursuit of answers on this one as anyone on this board has.

Sorry I couldn’t deliver on this one, but I feel as if I have gone the whole nine yards already (chuckle chuckle chuckle).

Lion Killer

Wrong approach. Being the manager, here’s how you do it:
Take employee A and tell her “You have one week for finding out the true origin of the phrace ‘the whole nine yards’, or else you’re pounding the pavement”.

After employee A has been canned approach employee B with the same project. By the time you get down to employee G or H you’ll probably have the right answer.

Sources for nineteenth-century slang need not necessarily be books about slang, they just need to contain slang. The works of Charles Dickens, for instance, or Mark Twain, have copious examples.

I presume that the folks who say that there’s no written examples before 1960 have already thought to check Dickens and Twain.

Chronos said

I think that you can assume with resonable certainty that Dickens and Twain and literally tens of thousands of others have been checked.

The massive project that was the OED nailed down 98% of all slang words and their first appearence in print in English. Other specialized works by Partridge, Mathews, and, in the 1990’s, the Lighter, Random House Dictionary of American Slang, Vol. I-II which I constantly use in my replies to the board, bring the totals up to 99+%.

Aw shucks! So that’s what’s been holding me back all these years!:smiley:

BTW, I did get the proposal in on time (by the skin of my teeth and using the “cut and paste” methodology), and I would be delighted to know if anyone ever does come up with the definitive answer on the whole nine yards.

Lion Killer