Montagnards & 9 yards proposal

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Jan 16 00:51:10 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."

This etymology has been proposed before. It was available on some Web sites
a while back, but I can't find a good Web exposition now. Probably it's
still there somewhere.

>In GI slang, Montagnards were already called 'yards.

Certainly they were called 'Yards. Somewhere somebody has asserted that a
conventional unit consisted of nine of them: I don't know whether this is
true or not.

>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.

Not exactly as I recall. However there were different editions, so possibly
these examples appeared in one. I read what I thought was the first
edition. The barbershop experience was there. A passage quoted in HDAS was
there, referring to a prospective package of domestic bliss (sexy woman +
house + furniture + ...) as I understood it. The third instance referred to
all the rigmarole associated with a divorce (this one would have favored
the "nine yards of red tape" etymology maybe!).

Since AFAIK nobody has convincingly solved this etymological puzzle, all
hypotheses can be entertained, I suppose.

IMHO, the Montagnard explanation is less plausible than some others because
"the whole nine 'Yards" is not a natural English phrase any more than "the
whole nine men" or "the whole nine sails" is (whereas "the whole nine yards
of cloth/concrete/ammunition/rope/etc." is natural). It would be "all nine
Montagnards". Of course scenarios can be imagined whereby this objection is
answered ... but I would consider other possibilities first: I can make
cases for several but the truth has not yet been established AFAIK.

I am hoping for some more early citations. Are there any pre-1970 besides
in "Doom Pussy"? Is it conceivable that this novel caught the very birth of
the expression? [Some correspondents have assured me of personal
recollections of much earlier use of the phrase in question, but human
memory is quite fallible.]

-- Doug Wilson

-- Doug Wilson

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