The whole nine yards

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by mathman, Jun 18, 2010.

  1. mathman Valued Senior Member

    What is the origin of the expression "the whole nine yards" for entirety? In particular, why "nine"?
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  3. pjdude1219 The biscuit has risen Valued Senior Member

    during world war 2 the 50 cal machineguns on american fighters were loaded onto the planes in drums that when laid out equaled 9 yards so to fire the whole nine yards was to give it everything you had.
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  5. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    While no written occurrences with the modern meaning have yet been found predating 1962, a number of anecdotal recollections suggest the phrase dates back to sometime in the 1950s, potentially into the 1940s. One of the better-documented cases is provided by Captain Richard Stratton, who recorded in 2005 that he encountered the phrase during naval flight training in Florida in July 1955 as part of a ribald story about a mythical Scotsman.

    It has been suggested that there is strong circumstantial evidence it was not in general use in 1961, as Ralph Boston set a world record for the long jump that year at 27 feet, or nine yards, but no news report has been found that made any reference to the term, suggesting that journalists were unaware of it or did not regard it as common enough to use as a pun.

  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  7. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member


    P-51B - 4 guns: 350 rounds inner, 280 outer. That's a total of 1260 rounds at 1/2" diameter = 17.5 yards for bullets alone (excluding gaps and links).
    Later versions (P-51D) had 6 guns, 1880 rounds = 26.1 yards. (Again, excluding gaps and links).
  8. lightgigantic Banned Banned

    I thought it had to do with a penalty in football, where the opposition has to move back nine yards
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I lack the enzyme to digest sports (inherited that mutation from my father) so I'm the last person to speak with authority about the rules of American football. Nonetheless, five minutes of Googling convinces me that penalties are only in multiples of five: five yards, ten yards or fifteen yards.

    The only exception (again, I'm only reading this, not speaking from my own knowledge) is if the penalty would move the ball more than half of the remaining distance to the penalized team's goal. In this case the penalty is reduced to that half-distance. For example, if the ball is on your ten yard line and your team receives a fifteen-yard penalty, the other team is not awarded a free touchdown. The ball is only moved five yards and they have to get it the rest of the way by playing actual football.
  10. mathman Valued Senior Member

    Until late in the war, the most commonly used fighters by the army air force were various models of the P-40, most of which used 50 cal. machine guns.
  11. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Late in the war? P-51 entered service just over a year after Pearl Harbour (March '43 for the P-51A [Allison engine]).

    As for P-40 the only one I can find ammunition loads for is P-40N (6 .50 cals) at 281 rpg (rounds per gun).
    ~23.4 yards. (again, excluding links, gaps and discounting cartridge diameter).
  12. mathman Valued Senior Member

  13. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    XP-40: 2 .50 cal.
    P-40: 2 .50 2 .30.
    P-40B & C: 2 .50 4 .30.
    P-40D: 4 .50.
    P-40E-N: 6 .50. (Sometimes just 4 in the P-40L).

    Source: The American Fighter, Angelucci & Bowers, Haynes Publishing Group.

    And yeah, more -D Mustangs built (~8,000) than all other variants added together.
  14. pietervolk Registered Member

    to dywydder and others:
    you cant measure the belt leangth by multiplying the calibre, because the case is wider than the bullet itself. the links are attached about halfway donw the leangth of the case. I would also stress that my grandfather was in the marine corps as a fifty gunner, and says this is the origin of the phrase, though what length of belt is unknown to me yet.
  15. D H Some other guy Valued Senior Member

    This article,, goes through several of the explanations offered above and more. The article pretty much debunks all of them and concludes with

    In summary, this is just one of those idiomatic phrases that defy explanation. This may not be satisfying, but it is not uncommon in English.​
  16. Jim S Registered Senior Member

    Another possiblity is earlier dump trucks, like for delivering gravel or dirt. Nine cubic yards would have been a typical load (not today - trucks have gotten bigger).
    If you dumped the whole truck in one spot you gave it the whole 9 yards.
  17. keith1 Guest

    Aye, mateys, you scalawags have certainly spun many a good yarn betwixed the lot of you. Avast, and look alive now, as the wind has come about the yard arm, and we must fill all this tall ships sails, to make Tripoli by the fortnight. Give her the full nine yards (3 masts x 3 yards per mast), and be quick about it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 27, 2010
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    If you really want to spend some time getting frustrated, try divining the origin of the word "okay." There are many fairly sensible candidates. There are four that I personally judge to have the highest probability of being true, but they all lack an adequate paper trail.

    Coincidence is a powerful force in the development of language, and I never see it given the importance I think it deserves. In the case of "okay," for example, it may actually have originated in four (or more) different times and places for different reasons, and they may have reinforced each other.

    The same could be true of "the whole nine yards."
    The citation posted by DH addresses this possible origin and hastens to add that it was quite common for square-rigged vessels to have eighteen yards rather than nine.

    Again, the term could have originated in multiple times, places and situations, and spread by reinforcement.
  19. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    And in construction today, and for the past many decades (at least since the 1960s if not long before), concrete trucks typically deliver a nine-cubic-yard load, and to deliver the whole nine yards is to empty the truck.
  20. mathman Valued Senior Member


Share This Page