Nine Yards Redux.

I last wrote about “the whole nine yards” back in 2012; that post began:

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.

Well, hold onto your hats, because the whole issue has been revisited by Dave Wilton of and perhaps resolved for good and all. Here are the first and last paragraphs, which sum up his findings:

Few phrases have as many tales attached to their origin as does the whole nine yards, which has spawned a raft of popular etymologies, all of them wrong. The phrase doesn’t have one particular origin, nor does it represent one particular metaphor. Instead, it seems to have evolved from a sense of yard meaning a vague quantity of something. Later, the words full or whole were attached to it, and even later it was quantified by the numbers six and nine, with the whole nine yards eventually winning out and becoming the canonical form. Use of the full phrase was for a long time restricted to the American Midwest, in particular to the region around the Kentucky-Indiana border, before breaking out into general American parlance in the middle of the twentieth century.

So regardless of what someone else has told you, the whole nine yards does not refer to the length of a belt of WWII machine-gun ammunition, the amount of material needed to make a Scottish kilt, the number of spars on a sailing ship, the amount of concrete a cement mixer holds, or anything else.

I find his discussion convincing and satisfying. (N.b.: My first post on the subject, in 2007, links to an earlier piece by Dave; unfortunately, the link now redirects to the new version, which will be confusing to anyone running across the old post and clicking through. I’d better add a note there.)


  1. Perhaps this comment got caught in the spam filter in its first iteration; I just wanted to say that you could link to the old wordorigins post with this:

    but change XXX and YYY to ://
    (I put those so that the blog might not recognize it as a possible spam link).

  2. You could link to an archived version of the 2007 post

  3. Thanks. I agree with Dave Wilton that the research of Bonnie Taylor-Blake was crucial in sorting this out. One typo: in the source entry with my name, the post (with several quotations) should read (not 1937) but “Re: The whole nine yards (1907–1916).” ADS-L, 8 September 2013.” It’s available here:

  4. Thanks, Ryan and mollymooly; I’ve changed the earlier post to the archive link.

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