the whole nine yards

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 5 14:04:59 UTC 2010

>From just

"I have no idea where or when the expression appeared in print, however I
can attest to it being in common use in rural Kansas around 1945 or so,
since my grandfather and a couple of uncles used it in my presence fairly
frequently then. It appeared then to be a 'well worn phrase' that everyone

*"Their explanation*, which is one of the many commonly claimed, was that
the cloth comes in 9 yard 'bolts,' and 'buying the whole 9 yards (like yer
grandma always does) means buying a bunch more than you need.'

"Since 'the boys' didn't actually buy cloth, and didn't know that the bolts
it came on actually started out with something more than 9 yards, grandma
explained that many women would 'take the whole 9 yards'  if there was no
more than that left on the roll; but if there was 10 yards left that sounded
like too much. Sometimes, after estimating that there might be ten yards
left, an offer to take the whole 9 yards resulted in the offer being
accepted without measuring, and the lady made a profit. The other
justification for taking more than needed was partly because nobody really
trusted the measurements of the clerks (usually the shopowners) to measure
accurately, and being "one foot in 9 yards cheated" was better than being a
half a foot short of the yard you actually needed.

"It should be noted that a feed sack from that time had about 'a yard' of
cloth in it, and almost any common kind of clothing could be made out of a
sack, so *buying cloth* was sort of an extraordinary thing, and subject to
separate debates among the men folk who couldn't understand why it was
necessary and among the wimmen folk who knew why they needed it. The two
separate 'councils' were well aware that such discussion in a mixed group
would lead to cold taters on the dinner plate for one of them."


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society -

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