"the whole nine yards" 1942 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jul 12 00:41:42 UTC 2007

At 8:26 PM -0400 7/11/07, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>>   I would have expected Land to have said "_all_ nine yards." ....
>I made about the same argument with respect to a "nine yard"
>etymological hypothesis on this list in 2004, and somebody else made
>about the same argument before I did.
>However, back when N'archive search was more effective, I did a
>casual search for expressions such "the whole nine men" and found a
>whole lot of instances of such expressions in otherwise unremarkable
>prose. Perhaps "the whole [number] [general plural noun]" is not
>really so unusual as I (inter alia) had thought (although I still
>agree "all ..." would be more usual here).
I'm not so sure, although I agree it would be more normal in most
contexts.  But consider the local exchange:

>  Senator BURTON. So that you have involved here a tremendous expansion in
>  production, and you are shooting for a 50-percent increase or more than a
>  50-percent increase in seven out of nine plants.
>  Admiral VICKERY. That is right, and they have got to make that to hit the
>  schedules.
>  Admiral [Emory S.] LAND. You have to increase from 7.72 to 12 for the
>  average at
>  the bottom of that fifth column, for the whole nine yards.

This seems to be a mass, not a count, use.  The nine yards in
question are being treated as a single entity or unit whose
production is at issue.  So even though we've just heard about a goal
of a 50% increase in 7 out of 9 plants/yards, which *does* involve an
itemization of particular yards, the response by Admiral Land refers
to what needs to be done at the collectively by the whole nine-yard


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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