the whole nine yards

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Jan 5 14:34:59 UTC 2001

At 12:50 AM 1/5/01 -0800, you wrote:
>>British imposed sumptuary laws limited scottish highlanders to no more than
>>nine yards of tartan cloth each. ...
>I've heard that theory, too, but ....

But nine yards is a standard length for an Indian sari, I believe (which is
not to say that all or most saris are of this length). I can provide
references old and new if anyone is interested, but I doubt that the origin
of the phrase has anything to do with plaids or saris.

A favorite etymology involves the length of an ammunition belt, and it is
commonly thought that the expression has a military origin. I can't say
that the ammunition-belt theory is unbelievable, but has it been
substantiated? Certainly "Give him the whole nine yards [of ammo]" sounds
good -- maybe too good.

I have another (very speculative) proposal, probably put forth by someone
else somewhere already -- very possibly originally military, but a little
rude .... If there's any interest, I can expatiate.

-- Doug Wilson

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