the whole nine yards


the whole nine yards
Meaning
All of it - full measure.
Origin
Of all the feedback that The Phrase Finder site gets this is the phrase that causes the most feedback and the most disagreement. At the outset it should be said that no one knows the origin, although many have an fervent belief that they do. These convictions are unfailingly based on no more evidence than 'someone told me'.
It is most likely that, like many phrases, it originated in colloquial use and has been appropriated as a general term meaning full measure in many different contexts. There are many things that can be measured in yards, so there are many plausible explanations of the phrase's origin. Regrettably, plausibility isn't enough. The earliest known reference to the phrase in print is as recent as 1967 in 'The Doom Pussy', a novel about the Vietnam War by Elaine Shepard. In that context the phrase refers to the difficulties a character has with unentangling himself from an unwanted marriage. It isn't clear if the author coined the phrase herself, although the manner of its use in the story would suggest not. Ms. Shepard died in September 1998, so perhaps we will never know. It does seem possible that the phrase was in use by WWII and I have several correspondents who claim relatives who remember using it in the US and British forces then. Once phrases are in common use though they do tend to appear in print within a year or two. The lack of any printed copy prior to 1967 supports the view that it originated in the 1960s. These are some of the versions going the rounds: without evidence one is as good as another, take your pick... 1. It comes from the nine cubic yards capacity of US concrete trucks and dates from around 1970s. 2. The explanation refers to World War II aircraft, which if proved correct would clearly pre-date the concrete truck version. There are several aircraft related sources, 1. the length of US bombers bomb racks, 2. the length of RAF Spitfire's machine gun bullet belts, 3. the length of ammunition belts in ground based anti-aircraft turrets, etc. No evidence to show that any of these measured nine yards has been forthcoming. 3. Tailors use nine yards of material for top quality suits. Related to 'dressed to the nines'? 4. The derivation has even been suggested as being naval and that the yards are shipyards rather than measures of area or volume. 5. Another naval version is that the yards are yardarms. Large sailing ships had three masts, each with three yardarms. The theory goes that ships in battle can continue changing direction as new sails are unfurled. Only when the last sail, on the ninth yardarm, is used do the enemy know which direction the ship is finally headed. If anyone has any hard evidence of this phrase being used before 1967, e.g. an appearance of the phrase in print, wewould love to see it. Please post your feedback at the Phrase Finder Discussion Forum - but please, evidence not conjecture.

Meaning and origin of phrases. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

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