29 April 2005

Did you know....

"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 a fervent belief that they do. These convictions are unfailingly based on no more evidence than 'someone told me'.

It is most likely that, as with many phrases, it originated in colloquial use and has been appropriated as a general term meaning full measure. It crops up in many contexts, which isn't surprising as there are many things that can be measured in yards. This leads to 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 disentangling 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 unfortunately we can't ask her.

Although the precise origin of any particular phrase may be difficult to determine, the date of its coinage usually isn't. Phrases that are accepted into common use appear in newspapers, court reports, novels etc. very soon after they are coined and continue to do so for as long as the phrase is in use. Anyone putting forward an explanation of an origin the the whole nine yards that dates from before the 1960s has to explain the lack of a printed record of it prior to 1967. If, to take the most commonly repeated version for instance, the phrase comes from the length of W.W.II machine gun belts, why is there no printed account of that in the thousands of books written about the war and the countless millions of newspaper editions published throughout the 1950s and 60s? The ideas that it pre-dates the war and goes back to the 19th century or even the Middle Ages are hardly plausible.

These are some of the versions going the rounds: take your pick...

- It comes from the nine cubic yards capacity of US concrete trucks and dates from around 1970s.

- The explanation refers to World War II aircraft, which if proved correct would clearly predate 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.

- Tailors use nine yards of material for top quality suits. Related to 'dressed to the nines'?

- The derivation has even been suggested as being naval and that the yards are shipyards rather than measures of area or volume.

- 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.

- A mediaeval test requiring the victim to walk nine paces over hot coals.


28 April 2005



In the beginning...

I remember it like it was yesterday. Seven semesters down, one to go, and I was manipulating my schedule to give me two days of class a week. I was already throwing away fliers reminding me to order pictures and graduation announcements because I knew I'd forget anyway. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

What was I going to do next? How could I possibly delay entrance into reality?

I turned my application in two weeks later.