The whole ball of wax [1875]

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 7 01:31:53 UTC 2013

A few years ago Doug Wilson and Ben Zimmer shared examples of "the
whole ball of wax" from 1882 issues of U.S. newspapers [links far

For what it's worth, here's a usage from 1875.  (Since the anecdote in
which the phrase appears involves a spelling competition and
dictionaries you're naturally getting the whole nine yards.)

-- Bonnie


If there is a favored spot on this green earth it is Union county,
Indiana.  The soil is the richest, the timber is the tallest, game is
abundant, and the climate is the best in the world.  If you wish to
know anything more about Union county, you are respectfully referred
to Jeff [Immel?], the wide-awake hardware merchant of Broadway.  He
was sitting by the stove in his store, in a deep study, last Saturday
morning, when his partner, Mr. Crawford, entered:

"Why didn't you come up last evening, Jeff?"

"Couldn't.  Had to go to the spelling match."

"Did they do some good spelling?"

"Good spelling?  No.  I know a young fellow down in Union county that
can spell down the whole ball of wax."

"What dictionary did they use last night?"

"Webster's.  And there's where they missed it.  We had a dictionary in
Union county that *beat Webster's all hollow*."

["Beat Webster all Hollow," The Logansport (Indiana) Pharos, 24 March
1875, p. 4, column 3; via  Text within asterisks
is italicized.]


 (The original appears in The [Cincinnati] Enquirer, 22 April 1882, p.
4, col. 1; via


The American Dialect Society -

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