Montagnards & 9 yards proposal

Se�n Fitzpatrick grendel.jjf at VERIZON.NET
Sat Jan 24 20:54:26 UTC 2004

I worked with Special Forces-led *montagnard* units for a year (1968-1969) all over Vietnam (except I Corps where Danang is) and received a number of informal briefings about them.   No one ever mentioned "nine tribes of *montagnards*" or even named 9 tribes from memory.  I don't recall encountering the expression "whole nine yards" in Vietnam, at a time and place it's connection with the *montagnards* would have been apparent.

Jim Morris, whose 1972 novel has been cited earlier, wrote a memoir, *War Story* (1979), which covers his three tours in Vietnam with Special Forces.  He worked a lot with *montagnards* in the early '60s, but doesn't mention either the "nine tribes" or the "whole nine yards".  (In fact, there were upwards of 2 dozen *montagnard* tribes; Mole's subtitle was a meiotic demurrer:  "A Study of Nine Tribes"; he obviously didn't think he was covering the whole nine yards about the 'yards.)

Back in 15 Jul 1999, Rex H. McTyeire responded to Stephen Goranson's airing of the Vietnam etymology in the ANE Digest with an account of how he found the use common among Special Forces Vietnam vets circa 1968: 
  <<I had heard the "whole nine yards" expression, which was new to me, in other training venues prior to my arrival.  None of the users could source it, but many were SF, as it was common practice to scatter SF war returnees around training commands between Oconus (Outside the continental US) assignments.  The expression was used uniformly and consistently in the SF community at [Ft.] Bragg [North Carolina] as a replacement for any and all familiar expressions alluding to "total commitment", "all but the kitchen sink", et  al.  All SF trainers were Vietnam veterans, between "Nam" assignments, or wounded casualties recovering.>>
This association with Special Forces raises another possibility:  that the nine yards refers to parachutes or parachuting.  I'll see what I can find out.


Seán Fitzpatrick
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