The whole nine yards (1907 - 1916)

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sun Sep 8 17:20:37 UTC 2013

Congratulations, Bonnie, and thanks. You have brought us somewhat closer to an understanding of these words. Concerning what remains, merely provisionally, inviting further discoveries, corrections, and observations...
I suppose inflation [Joel, Fred, Ben] is largely out the window--as are some of, um, my previous hypotheses.
Though, who knows, it might could have been influenced by our words of interest, the 1916 text, with the comma, "whole, nine yards" is not a reliable [Fred wrote "possible"] instance (much less a "best concrete link..." [pace John]), as it can be read, more or less, as: the whole get-up, nine yards of structural cooperage, hoopage, product [sic, not produce].
Also, John, I wonder whether "...clearly the modern sense of wholeness, rather than suggesting a long story or a lot of information" might be prematurely imposing a dichotomy, perhaps a false one. Whole story, possibly, may relate to several of the known early uses? Whole story, then, more or less, whole case or realm?
Mystical number possibility seems to have faded.
These yards may have soon been used and read in more than one sense; there may have been more than one origin or stage. E.g., as John suggested, maybe someone remembered that 1855 [1855 Yankee Notions [NY] vol. 4 no. 1 January (HT) p. 166-7 and ff] joke, though I doubt many did; and maybe some picked 4 or 6 or 9 for reasons that arose later.
Yards of information need not always have been (and were not always) conceived of as linear measure, rather than, say, area measure, or maybe even strictly, measure. Douglas Wilson (11/12/2007) suggested a nine yard long (linear) list for the 1962 car accessories, which I doubt, but in the same post helpfully mentioned "yards of information [etc.]."
Even oral accounts have been described with "yards."
I posted on 9/15/2012 some uses of "yards of information" and "whole yards." In some cases (not all, possibly irrelevant ones too, for conversation's sake), relevant? Following Bonnie's example, I rearrange them in chronological order, with an addition (1899).

[[The Beginnings of the English Newspaper 1620-1660. Joseph Frank 1961. p. 239. paper.
With a straight face he [Collins, in the 17th c.] referred to an indictment of a lawyer that filled a sheet nine yards long....]]

[[Narrative of the British embassy to China ... 1792-1794 ... . Anderson, Aeneas. (London, 1796) [HT] p.4
In this manner the whole yards of the ship are filled with men up to the main-top-gallant royal.]]

Sermons. 2. Spurgeon, C. H. (Charles Haddon), 1834-1892.(NY, 1857- )[HT]p. 341
We have heard men talk of their experience, who can give us whole yards of godliness, if that consists in the tongue; but when they come to practice, ah!

Turkish life and character. By Walter Thornbury. ... v.1. Thornbury, Walter, 1828-1876. (London, 1860) [HT] p.106
But as these poems in blue and gold sometimes run to whole yards of verse, let this specimen suffice.

Bob Long. J. Robert Boyer (Shenandoah PA, c1887) [HT] p.13
Bob--....Florence, I have come here to tell you that I _love you_....I am not going to give vent to whole yards of nectar-impregnated effusions....

Parodies of the works of English & American authors, ... v.6. Hamilton, Walter, comp.(London 1884-9)[HT]p.25 c.1
"You who, with a wind of words in thuds of thunder,
Of sense made hash;
Blind, yet bleating in the blaze of your own blunder
Whole yards of trash;...."

Traveling alone. A woman's journey around the world. ... . Leland, Lilian. (1890) [HT] p. 238
A small boy takes me in hand, and reels off several yards of information, all of which I have happily forgotten.

The quarterly journal of economics. v.4 1890 (Cambridge MA). [HT] p. 219
Generally, too, he passed in front of the student who really wanted to see, who found the hundreds of square yards of information very hard on neck and eyes, the hundreds of books, pamphlets, and reports which were nailed to the little tables bewilderingly numerous and tantalizing,....

1899, Dec. Womanhood v. 3 no. 13 [London] There I heard yards and yards of information about the new rector. [GB]

Burton Prepares Channel Attack So Declares Port Warden Ray at Meeting of the Board Advises; Philadelphia Inquirer, 12-04-1906; v 155;  no 157; p.6; col. 6 [AHN]
I understand that Congressman Burton...has prepared four yards of information upon which he proposes to base some sort of argument..."

Vancouver to the coronation : a four month's holiday ... . Miller, John James, 1860-1950.(London, 1912) [HT] p. 163
....he recited whole yards of Burns in the Scotch lingo.

Poster advertising / written and compiled by Herbert ... . Duce, Herbert Cecil. (Chicago, 1912) [HT] p.7
....passing citizens were amused by whole yards of reversed posters....

In the land of the Filipino, by Ralph Kent Buckland (NY c1912) [HT] p. 5....the driver at intervals giving voice to whole yards of Spanish....

The Incorporated accountants' year book 1912/13. (London) [HT] p. 502
[Examination question] 6. A certain newspaper contains 16 pages, each measuring 24 ins. by 18 ins. How many square yards of information are contained in one copy?

Rain Brings Naval Recruits. Alger Anxious to Leave at Once and Get to His Training Station;  Aberdeen American [SD] 04-27-1918; p. 8 c. 3 [AHN] [A naval recruiter] out yards of information.

Caleb Catlum's America; the enlivening wonders ... . McHugh, Vincent, 1904-1983 (1936) [HathiTrust]
p. 122
The talk finally swung 'round to the matter of husbands and I picked up five-six dozen yards of information I carried with me all my life long.
p. 164
Guillaume the Canuck feller had yards and yards of stuff 'bout some hero of the North Woods named Paul Bunyan.

Reauthorization of OMB's Office of Information ... 4.G 74/9:S.hrg.101-588. United States Senate (1990) [HT] p. 85 We don't, for instance, ask for the entire 9 yards of information for every chemical under every circumstance.

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 07, 2013 6:41 PM
Subject: [ADS-L] The whole nine yards (1907 - 1916)

On Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 6:14 PM, Baker, John <JBAKER at> wrote:

> For convenience I'm going to put all of these citations together in this
thread, then offer my comments.

Thanks for doing so, John, and for sharing the 1916 citation from
Greensburg, which (as you noted) describes the "first of the new barrel
skirts," the "real for-sure one, wiring, hoops and the whole, nine yards
cooperage product," along with mentioning "the nine yards of goods used in
the make up [of the skirt]."  I actually had seen that on my earlier scan
of, but -- for what it's worth -- it just didn't
strike me as related to the idiomatic "the whole nine yards."

> Now it looks like "whole nine yards" is actually earlier, and the 1907
use above is clearly the modern sense of wholeness, rather than suggesting
a long story or a lot of information.

Although that 1907 use of "the full nine yards" and the 1912 use of "the
whole nine yards" (in the snippet about Teddy Roosevelt) do indeed seem to
move away from signalling "the long version" of a story or the imparting of
a lot of information, I think the uses from 1908 and 1914 could be read in
the context of "information-sharing" or "the long version."  I'll try to be
more objective, though, in thinking about this; it's hard to shake a pet

One more small thought about the new data.  My *guess* is that just one
person (perhaps the editor or publisher) was responsible for the four uses
of the "nine yards" forms in The Mitchell Commercial.  And I'll note that
the three instances of "the whole six yards" that appeared in The Mount
Vernon Signal seem have have originated with the paper's correspondent from
nearby Livingston.

Given that there's not much temporal separation between the so-far earliest
"nine yards" sightings and the so-far earliest "whole six yards" sighting,
I wonder whether we might at the moment think of these variations as
essentially co-existing, at least during this period and (pretty much)
within the same region.  (Who knows what we'll find next, though.)

That way of thinking allows us to extend your list of early "nine yards"
citations (thank you) by merging it with the "six yards" forms uncovered
last year.  (See below.)  Not sure whether seeing them together helps much,
but it's worth a try.

-- Bonnie


[1907] This afternoon at 2:30 will be called one of the baseball games that
will be worth going a long way to see.  The regular nine is going to play
the business men as many innings as they can, but we can not promise the
full nine yards.  [From "Baseball," The Mitchell Commercial (Lawrence
County, Indiana), 2 May 1907, p. 2]

[1908] Roscoe Edwards and wife returned Wednesday evening of last week from
Saltillo where they had been visiting Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Cook.  While there
Roscoe went fishing and has a big story to tell, but we refuse to stand
while he unloads.  He will catch some unsuspecting individual some of these
days and give him the whole nine yards.  [From The Mitchell Commercial, 4
June 1908, p. 3.]

[1912a] But there is one thing sure, we dems would never have known that
there was such crookedness in the Rebublican [sic] party if Ted and Taft
had not got crossed at each other.  Just wait boys until the fix gets to a
fever heat and they will tell the whole six yards.  [Mount Vernon
(Kentucky) Signal, 17 May 1912.]

[1912b] As we have been gone for a few days and failed to get all the news
for this issue we will give you the whole six yards in our next.  [Mount
Vernon Signal, 28 June 1912.]

[1912c] The above would indicate that bull moosers are trying to pave the
way for "Teddy" to hang on forever, should they succeed in landing him this
time.  Might as well take the whole nine yards while you're at it.  If
Roosevelt gets in move to make it permanent.  [From "Third Term
Superstition," The Mitchell Commercial, 10 October 1912, p. 2.]

[1914] Tired and disgusted the lady returned and while resting a moment a
little girl came in and inquired if they should keep the basket too. The
girl stated she called for the premiums and finding no one she looked in
the basket and knew the goods belonged to her mama, so she took them.  This
settled the whole nine yards.  [From "Story of a Green Basket," The
Mitchell Commercial, 26 November 1914, p. 1.]

[1916] Well, Mr. Editor we must take our hat off to you. In your last
week's editorial you sure did give them the whole six yards and it did suit
us to a T.Y.  So, come again at your earliest convenience.  [From
"Livingston," The Mount Vernon Signal, 22 September 1916, p. 1.]

[1921] The Whole Six Yards of It  [Title of an article describing a
baseball game, The Spartanburg (South Carolina) Herald, 7 May 1921, p. 5.]


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