The whole nine yards (1907 - 1916)

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 8 17:52:26 UTC 2013

On Sun, Sep 8, 2013 at 1:20 PM, Stephen Goranson <goranson at> wrote:

> 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."

Thanks for your complete listing, Stephen, which I pruned just for
simplicity's sake; it's good to have that and to be reminded of Doug's
thoughts on this at the time.

I should note that other ways of looking for "yards" used with respect
to oral or written accounts (in the sense of sharing of information
and not literal yards of anything) are to think of "[jokes, for
example] by the yard" and "[a speech, for example] X yards long."  And
"gossip" and "tales" and the like are sometimes referred to in terms
of yardage.

For what it's worth, two such instances from the period and, for that
matter, region that I'm very fond of follow.

-- John E. Nuckol of Bowling Green, Kentucky wrote a letter to the
editor of *Southern Planter* and mentioned that, "Kentucky always has
been and perhaps always will be the target for the humorist.  It is
impossible tell the yards of yarns that have been spun at the
Kentuckian's expense about the minut julep, the sour mash whiskey, and
the country toddy."  That's from October, 1913, p. 1031 on Google
Books.  (Clearly "yarns" is used here in the sense of "narratives.")

-- Our greatest handicap is the lingo.  We get our little books and
steal away to some quiet spot and memorize three or four words [of
French]: then sally forth to snare some Frenchman in his den.  After
locating your victim, you walk right up to him, take a deep breath,
and fire away.  You cannot imagine the magic result.  You may be
asking a question that in the United States one would answer with
"yes" or "no," but it is not that way over here.  Mr. Frenchman
straightens up and turns loose a stream nine yards long.  [From
"Letters from Our Soldier Boys; In Training Camps," Hoosier State
(Newport, Indiana), 26 June 1918.]

Tough to know whether this soldier's use of "nine yards" with
reference to the delivery of language is at all significant or
reflective of a meme, of course.  I find it's easy to get carried away
with this sometimes.

-- Bonnie

The American Dialect Society -

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