I’ve written about “the whole nine yards” more than once as new evidence has emerged; the last time was back in 2009. Now a startling new development has thrown the number of yards into question and antedated the phrase by decades, to 1912. To quote Jennifer Schuessler’s NY Times story:
The recent discovery of several instances of “the whole six yards” in newspapers from the 1910s — four decades before the earliest known references to “the whole nine yards” — opens a new window onto “the most prominent etymological riddle of our time,” said Fred Shapiro, a librarian at Yale Law School who announced the findings in next month’s issue of The Yale Alumni Magazine.
Other language experts agree about the import of the discovery. “The phrase is interesting because it’s so mysterious,” said Ben Zimmer, the executive producer of Visual Thesaurus.com and Vocabulary.com, who has written previously on the search for its origin. “It’s been a kind of Holy Grail.”
See Schuessler’s story for details; I like very much the final quote from Shapiro: “People are drawn to colorful etymologies. But they are almost always wrong.”