[Antedating] "All nine yards" [1962]

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Nov 13 03:28:06 UTC 2007

>I'm not sure, though, how much this sighting of "all nine yards [of X]"
>helps, except in demonstrating (I think) the letter-writer's and editor's
>nonchalance about the expression and their implicit confidence that the
>figurative use of "all nine yards of" would be easily understood by readers
>of *Car Life*.

There is one rather distinctive feature here ... and I don't mean
"all" instead of "whole" (I think that's probably arbitrary and insignificant).

Here it is nine yards _of_ something, explicitly. It's nine yards of
[optional] accessories, I believe. Since these accessories do not
lend themselves to measure by linear or cubic yards, I think the most
appropriate image is that of a long list, like on the window sticker
... a list a full nine yards long in 'fact'.

Not very exciting, but I suppose this is the likely original concept:
not a long ammo-belt or a long piece of calico, but just a long list,
i.e., a lot of items.

And of course "yards of information [etc.]" is old, again I think
probably based on the idea of a long list or a long block of text.

Why nine? Maybe it's arbitrary, maybe not. At Google Books (e.g.) one
can search for <<"list three yards">>, <<"list four yards">>, etc.,
and find a number of old-enough examples of "a list X yards long"
meaning simply "a long list". One can also find examples of "a list X
feet long" with similar sense. "Yards" is a little special in that "a
list yards [and yards] long" sounds right while "a list feet [and
feet] long" does not (IMHO).

Sense 3a of "yard" in MW3: <<a great length or quantity>>.

-- Doug Wilson

No virus found in this outgoing message.
Checked by AVG Free Edition.
Version: 7.5.503 / Virus Database: 269.15.30/1127 - Release Date: 11/12/2007 9:19 PM

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list