Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

May 19, 2013


Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:24 am



I heard someone say that they had purchased a new Ford Galaxy with “all nine yards of goodies”.  I once heard a woman say that she really gave that other woman a piece of her mind, giving her the “whole nine yards”.  I am sure we have all used that phrase from time to time.  But, what does it really mean?  So we are giving some one or some thing nine yards of what?  As with most of these sayings, its history is unknown.

While the meaning of “the whole nine yards” is relatively well understood, how the saying came into the English language remains a mystery.  That little phrase is casually tossed into conversations when the need arises to express that every conceivable (and quite possibly inconceivable) length has been gone to in pursuit of a specific aim.  It speaks to the completeness of the effort, that nothing was missed or skipped over.  But what “nine yards” are being referred to, and why must the “whole” of them be accomplished?

Research reveals the three most popular theories of its origin:

First, the phrase originated as a uniquely American turn of phrase while remaining relatively unknown in Great Britain.  However, the most popular theory has to do with the amount of cloth needed to fashion a Scottish kilt.  I have not seen very many kilts; however it does not seem logical that they would require nine yards of cloth.  Also, I have never heard a kilt wearer or manufacturer bragging about the whole nine yards that had gone into their apparel’s manufacture.

The second most popular theory has to do with the contents of a standard size cement mixer.  Concrete is vended by the cubic yard (one cubic yard equals 27 cubic feet). Thus, if a typical cement truck of the 1950s contained nine yards of concrete, it could fairly be said that a person who took delivery of a full truckload got the “whole nine yards”.  The main problem with this theory is that cement trucks of that era didn’t carry that much concrete because a 4.5 yard mixer was definitely the standard of the industry.  Buy 1962 it had increased to 6.24 yards, still far from nine yards.

The third theory seems to be the most popular by people who study such things.  This theory is being attributed to the length of machine gun ammunition belts used in World War II.  During this war, U.S. fighter planes in the South Pacific were often equipped with machine gun ammunition belts.  These belts, when stretched out on the ground, measured approximately 27 feet.  If a pilot fired all his ammo at a target, he was said to have given “the whole nine yards”.

While this theory appears plausible on the surface, there are a couple of things wrong with it.  First, ammunition is most commonly measured in rounds, not by length.  Second, “the whole nine yards” did not appear in print until approximately two decades after the time it was supposedly coined in WW II, and in wide enough use to have spread to others.

Beyond these primary three theories of the idiom’s origin are several lesser ones, including:

*The length of fabric necessary to fashion a wedding dress, a man’s suit, a burial shroud, a bridal veil, or a kimono.

*A full set of sails on a three-masted ship running with all sails out.

*The volume (9 cubic yards) of earth removed from the ground to make a grave.

*The volume of a coal truck.

*The number of lots in a New York City block.

*The length of US bomber’s bomb racks.

So, this little phrase has so far been dated back to the early 1960s, with a written reference in Car Life Magazine in December 1962 which reads, “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.”

So, I have now given you the “whole nine yards” of information on the phrase itself.  Its origin will have to remain unknown as are many other little phrases that we use on a daily basis.  It is probably not important enough to stress about.





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