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Old 21 June 2007, 12:21 PM
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Glasses Closing in on "the whole nine yards"

From Ben Zimmmer's "Language Log" column, posted today,

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004623.html

Quote:
This represents something of a Holy Grail among word sleuths: a significant antedating (i.e., an earlier citation that what is already known) for the elusive phrase the whole nine yards, meaning 'the full extent of something.'

The whole nine yards serves as a rare counterexample to the Recency Illusion: despite many theories for its origin in the distant mists of time, it has only been documented since the 1960s.
(By the way, real-old-timers may remember Sam Clements, who discovered this 1964 antedating and who is mentioned in Zimmer's column. Sam, posting as "sam the coinman," was a frequent visitor here until a few years ago.)

-- Bonnie

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  #2  
Old 01 July 2007, 01:25 PM
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My father ( air force in korea) alway told me it was a left over WWII saying having to deal with the linked chains of. 50 BMG ammo used in fighters. Giving them the whole nine yards was to unload all the available ammo into the enemy aircraft.
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  #3  
Old 01 July 2007, 02:05 PM
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I'd be really interested to know whether your father remembers hearing the expression in the '50s, when he served in the Air Force. Firsthand recollections of encountering the phrase (and how the phrase was used) in flight school, on base, or similar are really important.

At the moment, though, the problem is that while the "nine yards of ammo" theory seems like a very reasonable explanation for the origin of the phrase, it doesn't quite work, as word sleuth Dave Wilton explains,

Quote:
It is often claimed that the nine yards is a reference to the amount of ammunition carried in a World War II fighter. Many American fighter planes of the war carried up to 500 rounds for each .50 caliber machine gun on board. 500 rounds of .50 caliber ammo does indeed measure out to almost exactly 27 feet, or nine yards. To give the whole nine yards, according to this explanation, would be expend all your ammunition at a target. While at first blush this seems to square with the Air Force citations from the 1960s, the explanation does not stand up to scrutiny. First, ammunition is never measured in length of the belt. It is measured in number or rounds or in weight. Second, the phrase is absent from WWII literature. If it were of WWII vintage, citations of usage dating back to the 1940s would certainly have been found by now. Finally, the explanation itself doesn't appear until the 1990s. This is pretty obviously an after-the-fact attempt to rationalize the meaning of the phrase.

http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/site/comments/whole_nine_yards_the/
I'm not willing to completely reject the "ammo explanation," because I think this is at the moment the best theory we've got since the expression seems indelibly linked to the Air Force. But I think our smoking gun, as it were, would have to be a reference to "the whole nine yards" (or similar) from the 1940s or 1950s.

(By the way, I've since found two more sightings of the phrase in pieces published in 1966, making them at least contemporaneous with the publication of Doom Pussy, which had previously held the record for the earliest appearance of "the whole nine yards." One comes from the symposium proceedings of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, where it appears as "the nine yards of things that we have really all been aware of for a long time" and another from a newspaper column written on behalf of the Indiana Sesquicentennial Commission, where the author uses "the whole nine yards" with reference to the contents of a record album on Indiana folklore. The author, whose principal profession had been as loan officer at a bank in Bedford, Indiana, had a life-long interest in aviation and had at one point served in the U.S. Army Air Corps.)

-- Bonnie
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Old 01 July 2007, 08:29 PM
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mWell I cant ask because he died in 1976. So I have heard the tearn at least before 1976.

I did some looking up. ( I own a 50 BMG by the way) Please check my match

When linked 100 rounds of 50 BMG comes out to 98".... about 1" per round linked. ( got this measurement from a fellow owner of 50BMGs, He unrolled a can for me this morning and measured it. I dont know were the above author got 500 rounds is 9 yards, maybe he was thinking .308 ammo which is smaller)

So nine yards of 50 BMG is about 324 rounds. ( 9 yards is 27 Ft x 12" is 324" or about 324 rounds )

A WWII mustang would take off with 1880 rounds of ammo to feed 6 weapons ( looked it up on the web) Each weapon had its own seperate feed chute.

Thats 313 rounds per weapon.... about nine yards of 50 BMG to each weapon.


You must remember these WWII aircraft were still being used into the 50s by us,resevest and other airforces that we gave them to. Some were still flying in south america into the early 70s.

Last edited by NovaSS; 01 July 2007 at 08:55 PM.
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Old 01 July 2007, 09:18 PM
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I'm sorry to hear about your father's death. (I hope I didn't sound flip earlier.)

I definitely defer to your knowledge of aircraft and ammunition from the period. Thanks for that.

Me, in the absence of any more convincing theory, I think it's at least possible that the expression may be linked to length of delivered ammo on WWII fighter planes. I don't know whether some linguist is spending all of his or her time combing through the 50- and 60-year-old writings (diaries, letters, commentaries, etc.) of WWII/Korean vets or test pilots, looking for period uses of "the whole nine yards" and related, or whether any historian is interviewing surviving air personnel of that period, asking for veterans' experiences with the phrase, but these pursuits seem like good subjects for graduate theses.

Trouble is, at the moment, without these period documents or firsthand experiences with the phrase, there's really no concrete evidence supporting the "nine yards of ammo" theory.

Bonnie "unless they were lobbing cement trucks, that is" Taylor
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Old 02 July 2007, 04:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bonnie View Post
I'm sorry to hear about your father's death. (I hope I didn't sound flip earlier.)

I definitely defer to your knowledge of aircraft and ammunition from the period. Thanks for that.

Me, in the absence of any more convincing theory, I think it's at least possible that the expression may be linked to length of delivered ammo on WWII fighter planes. I don't know whether some linguist is spending all of his or her time combing through the 50- and 60-year-old writings (diaries, letters, commentaries, etc.) of WWII/Korean vets or test pilots, looking for period uses of "the whole nine yards" and related, or whether any historian is interviewing surviving air personnel of that period, asking for veterans' experiences with the phrase, but these pursuits seem like good subjects for graduate theses.

Trouble is, at the moment, without these period documents or firsthand experiences with the phrase, there's really no concrete evidence supporting the "nine yards of ammo" theory.

Bonnie "unless they were lobbing cement trucks, that is" Taylor
Didn't pilots/gunners decide what mix of ammo to load, ie, how much tracer, armour peircing, standard ball ammo, would be linked - depending on the likely target and the hour of day. Or was there a normal mix?
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  #7  
Old 03 July 2007, 06:25 AM
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Okay, to add to your anecdotal "data" - I asked friend who had two uncles in the Army Air Corps in WWII about this. (He found a box of family letters from the time and has been transcribing them for a family history, so I thought he might have run across it in one of the "boys'" letters/Vmails home.) He said no, and also asked his living uncle if he'd ever heard it, and he also said no.

FWIW.
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  #8  
Old 03 July 2007, 06:00 PM
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1944 -1953 , first generation jet fighters used the same ammo payload as WWII aircraft, seemed to be the magic number. It wasnt till the late 50s that the 20mm started to replace the .50BMG in fighters.

P-80 shooting star, 6x 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns (300 rounds per gun, 1,800 rounds total)

f-84 Thunder jet 6× .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning M3 machine guns, (300 rounds/gun)

f-86 Sabre 6× 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns 300 + rounds per gun
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  #9  
Old 17 November 2007, 01:01 PM
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An earlier appearance of a related form. A letter to the editor from the December, 1962 issue of Car Life (Volume 9, Issue 11, p. 2),

Quote:
When you decide what extra cost equipment the American car buyer would like to hear about, each of the models tested should be so equipped. Your staff of testers cannot fairly and equitably appraise the Chevrolet Impala sedan, with all nine yards of goodies, against the Plymouth Savoy which has straight shift and none of the mechanical conveniences which are quite common now. The cars tested should be as nearly alike as possible.
Which at least demonstrates (for the moment) that "all nine yards of [x]" is as old as "the whole nine yards" (if not older).

The above usage suggests that "nine yards" may simply be a way of describing, in a hyperbolic sense, a long list or a large collection of things, which is also hinted at by the recently discovered 1964 NASA usage of "whole nine yards" ("'Give 'em the whole nine yards' means an item-by-item report on any project") and the 1966 usage of "the nine yards of things" at a meeting of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots ("Then two-engines, two pilots, and the rest, the nine yards of things that we have really all been aware of for a long time"). It's possible that the origin of the idiom may not hinge on a literal nine yards of anything -- no nine yards of cement in a cement-truck load, no nine yards of ammo, no nine yards of fabric, etc. "Nine yards" may be entirely arbitrary.

Rather than honing in on an understanding of "nine yards" in a literal sense, then, this (so far) earliest appearance of "all nine yards of" -- used in such a nonchalant manner, in such a generic setting -- seems to take us away from popular theories about the origin of "the whole nine yards."

At least until a still earlier appearance of "the whole nine yards" (or related) is found, that is.

-- Bonnie
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Old 17 November 2007, 03:31 PM
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Congratulations, Bonnie! I noticed this on Harmless Drudge and Language Log this morning, with you given credit. Very well done!
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  #11  
Old 17 November 2007, 08:22 PM
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Vanishing

Well, thanks for that, Steve. (I have to admit that I sort of stumbled on that one, so it was pretty much dumb luck.)

Anyway, I've no doubt that someone will soon find something that's just a little bit earlier, and then just a little earlier than that, etc., so this could take a while. It'll be interesting to see what happens as we approach the genesis of this expression. My prediction about how this may end has changed at least a couple of times.

-- Bonnie
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  #12  
Old 17 November 2007, 08:40 PM
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You want the real story?

In 1957, when I was ten, I made mony in the summers by mowing people's yards. I had nine regular customers. On one memorable Saturday, I mowed my aun'ts yard (across the street from our house), then did the two neighbors' on each side of our house. I went up to the street behind ours and did my dad's cousins, and then the three crazy Feeneys (three old-maid triplets; Faye wouldn't speak to anyone but her sister Kaye, who would listen to her but in turn would only speak to their sister Rachel, who would talk to anybody), then I did Mr. Walsh's (as usual he stiffed me and told me to come back next week for my money), and then Mr. Ballus's, because a couple of weeks before he had broken both of his ankles trying to prove it was possible to leap over a moving Hudson Hornet. Then I came home in the early evening and did our own yard.

Because it normally took me three days to do all that, my mom asked incredulously, "Did you mow all of your customers' lawns today?"

"Yep," I said, teetering on the brink of linguistic immortality, "the whole nine lawns!"

Darn, I was that close, too.
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  #13  
Old 17 November 2007, 10:21 PM
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I made mony in the summers? Who was she?

Money, obviously. I blame it on an increasingly recalcitrant ergonomic keyboard. Think I'll ask Santa for a new one. The left space bar, for onething, often does not work.Asyou can see. And the e isgetting sticky, too, somtims not apparingat all.
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Old 18 November 2007, 12:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad from Georgia View Post
I made mony in the summers? Who was she?

Money, obviously. I blame it on an increasingly recalcitrant ergonomic keyboard. Think I'll ask Santa for a new one. The left space bar, for onething, often does not work.Asyou can see. And the e isgetting sticky, too, somtims not apparingat all.
From this session interdict
Every fowl of tyrant wing,
Save the eaggle, feather'd kingg
Damn machine the g is sticked.
(R.A. Lafferty)

Silas
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Old 15 December 2007, 01:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad from Georgia View Post
Because it normally took me three days to do all that, my mom asked incredulously, "Did you mow all of your customers' lawns today?"

"Yep," I said, teetering on the brink of linguistic immortality, "the whole nine lawns!"

Darn, I was that close, too.
I can do you one better, I'm afraid.

My great, great, ..., great grandfather actually served in the Napoleon wars as a soldier for the Petit Coporeal's elite guard. Don't ask me how I know, because it's not germane to the conversation, and my ability to fast-talk convincingly is being taxed enough as it is :P

Anyways, my G^N grandfather was familiar with astrology, and noticed that, before the much ballyhoo'ed Battle of Waterloo, that all nine planets were against Napoleon - each of them, in sets of 3, pointing unfavorably to the Petit Corproreal's last attempt to reunite with his family.

.. and so, the story gets passed down to me, how Napoleon asked my G^N grandfather if, of all possible alignments of the nine planets were against him, he responded,

.. "mais oui, mon Corporeal.. there are nine combinations of quincunges, and all are against you.."

.. "All of them!", stammered an incredulous Napleon.

.. "Oui, mon Empereur.. all of them.. 'ow you say, 'ze all nine yods'".

And *that*, I assure you, is how we got the phrase in our language.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yod_%28astrology%29 in case I'm not as funny at this early hour as I think I am )
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  #16  
Old 19 March 2009, 04:30 PM
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Icon102

Here's the newest earliest appearance of "the whole nine yards" found so far:

From "Man on the Thresh-hold" by Robert E. Wegner
Michigan's Voices: A Literary Quarterly Magazine
Created by Michigan Writers and Artists
Vol. 2, No. 4 (Fall 1962)

Quote:
Marjorie's fault, and if all this howling and
yelling up and down through the furnace pipes
didn't stop soon they'd have the kids awake and
then we can all take positions at one of the
vents and bellow at each other ... then the dog
would catch on and go ki-yi-yi-ing from one to
the other of the shouting pyjama-clad
participants -- mad, mad, mad, the consequence of
house, home, kids, respectability, status as a
college professor and the whole nine yards, as a
brush salesman who came by the house was fond of
saying, the whole damn nine yards and Marjorie
with her credulous countenance which allowed him
to tell her with a perfectly straight face ...
tell her it was a left-handed screwdriver he
needed, one that turned counter-clockwise ...
http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...1&F=&S=&P=7615

-- Bonnie
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  #17  
Old 28 December 2012, 12:11 AM
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Icon102 The Whole Nine Yards About a Phrase’s Origin

When people talk about “the whole nine yards,” just what are they talking about?

For decades the answer to that question has been the Bigfoot of word origins, chased around wild speculative corners by amateur word freaks, with exasperated lexicographers and debunkers of folk etymologies in hot pursuit.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/27/bo...es-origin.html
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  #18  
Old 28 December 2012, 01:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad from Georgia View Post
Because it normally took me three days to do all that, my mom asked incredulously, "Did you mow all of your customers' lawns today?"

"Yep," I said, teetering on the brink of linguistic immortality, "the whole nine lawns!"

Darn, I was that close, too.
Five years too late, but Brad, that was brilliant. Although (having looked up "yod") GravyTrain did pretty well too...
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Old 28 December 2012, 12:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
Five years too late, but Brad, that was brilliant. Although (having looked up "yod") GravyTrain did pretty well too...
Ah, thank you, thank you. I've been waiting for that.
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  #20  
Old 28 December 2012, 01:22 PM
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I can't hold back any longer. Pluto was not discovered until well after Napolean's time, so it could not have been used to plot his future.

Ahhhhhhhh..........
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