Montagnards & 9 yards proposal

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Thu Jan 15 12:08:41 UTC 2004

In the Vietnam War, the U.S. sought the "Montagnards" as allies, and, I
suggest, one minor but perhaps interesting consequence was the slang phrase
"the whole nine yards."

In 1966 a US Navy chaplain, Robert L. Mole, wrote The Montagnards
(Tribes-People) of I Corps, South Vietnam, a work which appeared in other
editions as The Montagnards: a Study of Nine Tribes. This work was intended
to promote cooperation between GIs and Montagnard groups in the northern
region of South Vietnam, the area of I Corps. In GI slang, Montagnards were
already called 'yards.

In 1966, a US reporter, Elaine Shepard, worked in Vietnam. She wrote that
year a lightly fictionalized book, with much slang dialogue, Doom Pussy; A
Narrative About the War in Vietman & the Men Who Are Fighting It (published
under several imprints in 1967). "Doom" here stands for Danang Open
Officers Mess--Danang, in I Corps area; and the title refers to a mascot.
This book describes visits to Montagnard people and includes reference to
them as "yards." The same book also has what is, to my current knowledge
(thanks to J. Sheidlower), the earliest usage of the phrase "the whole nine
yards," as well as "the full nine yards." These are used in reference to a
complete barbering/massage treatment and to a full-service housecleaning.
Though the book does not link "yards" to the "whole" or "full nine yards,"
that is what I propose. On this theory, GIs learned of nine tribes they
were to seek as helpers, and created this phrase as the complete, full
compliment, goal. (The slang is used by a character named Smash; the "whole
smash" is listed with "whole nine yards" in Word Watching XLV n4 April 1970, 7
by James C. Work, "A Little Tale with Footnotes," on US Air Force slang.)

In a 1972 novel (listed in HDAS), Strawberry Soldier (p.18), by Jim Morris, a
Vietnam veteran, describes another vet putting on his uniform with many
decorations, "the whole nine yards." That book also includes descriptions of
Montagnards as his friends and allies.

Stephen Goranson

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