1956/1957 "whole nine yards" update

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 3 21:32:06 UTC 2012

I thought I'd share an update on those sightings of "the whole nine
yards" from the 1950s.  I sent some of this to Ben earlier this week
and he incorporated a few details in his latest Word Routes column.
Before I begin, though, I need to thank Stephen Goranson for obtaining
a PDF of the usage in the January, 1957 issue of *Kentucky Happy
Hunting Ground*.  (There's a link to it far below.)

On Monday, July 30, I spoke with Ron Rhody, who (among other things)
wrote copy for KHHG from 1953 to 1957. Late last week I had stumbled
on Ron's blog, where he mentioned his time at KHHG and his association
with its editor, Harry Towles (see [1], below).  Ron (or Ronnie, as he
was known to readers of KHHG at the time) tells me that he authored
the two pieces in which "the whole nine-yards" (1956) and "the whole
nine yards (1957) appeared.

Ron became Assistant Director for Public Relations for the Department
of Fish and Wildlife Resources and created and hosted "Kentucky
Afield," the Department's radio and TV programs (see [2], below).  He
had a long career in public relations and held senior positions with
major U.S. corporations.  You can read more about him at his author's
page at Amazon.com; see [3], below.

Before we talked, we shared a few emails.  I've put together excerpts
of those messages and typed up my notes from our phone conversation.
Ron reviewed and approved what follows as accurately reflecting our
conversations and his experience with "the whole nine yards."

-- Bonnie


Ron Rhody was born in 1932 and grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky.  His
parents were also native Kentuckians; his father was in the newspaper
business.  Ron graduated from high school in 1950 and finished college
at the University of Kentucky in 1955.  He joined Fish and Wildlife in

He noted that "I originated the Kentucky Fishing Derby and the radio
and TV Kentucky Afield series while working at the Kentucky Department
of Fish and Wildlife Resources. I was in my junior year at UK, working
part time at Fish & Wildlife to help pay my way through school."  It
was in the July, 1956 piece about the state-wide Fishing Derby that he
used "the whole nine-yards" (see [4], below).  Ron indicated that
there was no significance to the hyphenation; this was just a habit of

He also authored the "Dear Sir" columns, which appeared in each issue
of the bimonthly magazine.  He explained that "[t]hey were a regular
feature in the Happy Hunting Ground magazine while I was there. 'Dear
Sir' was the standing head. The pieces always began 'Dear Harry' --
the conceit being that I was writing from the field bringing Harry
Towles, the magazine's editor, up to date on what was happening out
there."  It was in the January, 1957 "Dear Sir" column that Ron used
"the whole nine yards" (see [5], below).

Ron is surprised by interest in the origin of "the whole nine yards."
He explained that "[i]t was a common phrase when I was growing up, in
use and understood by almost every one I knew."  He further noted that
"I've always understood 'the whole nine yards' to be a football
reference. It's fourth and nine and rather than do the smart thing and
punting, you go for it all. So the phrase to me has always meant going
for it all, or in a more generic sense, to refer to all of what
remains."  He had not heard variant forms ("all nine yards," "the full
nine yards," etc.) growing up.

At the end of my interview with Ron, after gathering the above
information, I asked him whether "the whole nine yards" might have a
military connection considering that so many of the early sightings
(1960s) had links to the military and aviation.  He reiterated that
this was something he grew up with and speculated that men with
military connections had more opportunities to be quoted back then. We
discussed whether -- given what he had told me -- "the whole nine
yards" might have been a regionalism, one in use before World War II.
That, at least, is his feeling.

[1] http://www.ronrhody.com/hunting-fishing/deja-vu-all-over-again/

[2] http://fw.ky.gov/app/news/newsdetail.aspx?id=820 ; Ron is on the
left, holding the microphone.

[3] http://www.amazon.com/Ron-Rhody/e/B002BMD3EU/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

[4] http://www.med.unc.edu/uploads/dmktm.july1956p1.pdf     (this link
will expire in 7 days)

[5] http://www.med.unc.edu/uploads/tbepr.jan1957p31.pdf    (this link
will expire in 7 days)

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

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