The Whole Six Yards of It

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Sat Sep 8 11:56:22 UTC 2012

I disagree and think this may indeed be a predecessor of "the whole nine
yards," although that's a very tentative conclusion as this is an early and
isolated appearance.

"Yard" is not all that common a term for a ball field. Yes, it is attested,
but it is relatively rare, and the simple use of "yard" in a headline would
not immediately bring to mind a ball field, even in a baseball context.

Furthermore and more importantly, the article is not about the league and
provides no information about how the other five teams are faring, as one
would expect if the title referred to the league. Instead, it is about the
Spartanburg Spinner's previous day's game against Greenville, giving a more
detailed, inning-by-inning prose account of the game. This fits the current
sense of "the whole nine yards" perfectly--it provides a lengthier, more
detailed description than the usual short article accompanied by a box score
that make up most newspaper accounts.

Finally, there are many examples of phrases with numbers that went through
multiple versions with different numerical values before settling on the one
that became canonical (e.g., "cloud nine"). It would not be surprising if
"the whole nine yards" had other numbers in the phrase in its early

Looking through other issues of the paper that are available on Google (I'm
not sure how much is available to those of you in the States; Google does
not provide full-view display of many of its texts to those of us north of
the border), the paper does have a semi-regular feature called "Running 'Em
Out" by A. G. Keeney (see 5 August 1921 for an example) that serves the same
function, only giving the detailed account of the game player-by-player
instead of inning-by-inning. Perhaps Keeney was off that day and someone
else filled in using a different format. Or perhaps, given that Google only
displays about 5% of the issues of this paper, the "Whole Six Yards" is a
regular feature that alternates with Keeney's column, only Google has chosen
to make available only this one example.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Stephen Goranson
Sent: Saturday, September 08, 2012 6:33 AM
Subject: Re: The Whole Six Yards of It

Well, when I pointed out offlist the second article about the same game on
the same page, and, under it, the league standings, listing the six
teams--"How they Stand" (they being Columbia, Greenville, Charlotte,
Charleston, Augusta, Spartanburg)--I gave my view that "The Whole Six Yards
of It" refers to these six teams, and their ball yards, and the It is the
South Atlantic league.

This, I suggest, is no precursor of "the whole nine yards" unless we take
precursor in a weak sense with vanishingly-small context. Of course there is
the pattern "the whole X" (shebang etc.) which in some sense could be called
a precursor, but whole nine yards likely had a literal referent before it
became figurative. And I think that literal referent more likely comes not
from what OED lists as yard noun 2 (stick, 36 inches, etc.) but from noun 1,
which includes, among other things, shipyards [and 9 shipyards were not
mentioned only once, in 1942] and... baseball yards.

E.g., from OED
 ballyard n. Baseball = ballpark n. 1.

1897   Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gaz. 26 Aug. 5/3   One of the most
sensational plays made at the ball yard this season.
2002   D. Martin & B. Martin Best of San Francisco (ed. 5) i. 26   Pacific
Bell Park has the look of a grand old ballyard with its brick façade.

[An off-topic question: why is Camden Yards plural?]

I find largely non-persuasive Arnold Zwicky's April 10, 2009 blogpost "The
Whole X." Among other things, AZ wrote: "I’m going to suggest that this
might be a fruitless search, akin to asking who the original Mac, Joe,
Charlie, Stan, etc. was in vocatives addressed to men." I don't find the two
"akin" in any stong sense (especially for the misheard Stan.)

Entire and full nine yards are plausibly seen as later variants of whole
nine yards, as is nine yards of goodies.
In "...all going into a common report when the whole nine yards gets wrapped
up" note that the project is not identical with the later report.

Stephen Goranson

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Bonnie
Taylor-Blake [b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Saturday, September 08, 2012 2:42 AM
Subject: [ADS-L] The Whole Six Yards of It

Well, since Fred Shapiro has just brought up "the whole nine yards" and
Geoff Nunberg has just mentioned (potential) baseball apocrypha ...

Any thoughts on what's at the following link?  You'll find an article
published 7 May 1921 describing, inning by inning, a just-completed baseball
game between the Spartanburg Spartans and the Greenville Spinners.
 The article is titled "The Whole Six Yards of It.",

Here are a few things we do know.  Both South Carolina squads were in the
six-team South Atlantic (minor) league.  Further, another description of the
ballgame can be found in the upper left of the whole page.  And, finally,
this doesn't appear to have been the title of a regular column:
 as far as I can tell, "The Whole Six Yards of It" was used just once in
issues of the *Spartanburg Herald-Tribune* appearing in Google's news

What, if anything, do we make of the paper's use of "The Whole Six Yards of

-- Bonnie

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