whole nine yards

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed Jun 28 02:20:31 UTC 2000

On Tue, 27 Jun 2000, Arnold Zwicky wrote:

> 1.  are there any reliable compendia of phrase origins, with
> reasonably broad coverage?  something you would recommend to
> someone like my friend?  (i have a couple of the old funk volumes -
> A Word in Your Ear, and A Hog on Ice - and of course a fair number
> of phrases are treated in unabridged dictionaries, in DARE, in
> lighter, etc., but i don't have anything that would suit my
> friend's needs.  but then phrase origins is a topic way way off
> my academic interests.)

The OED is a reliable compendium of phrase origins, in the sense that it
usually sets forth the earliest known evidence of a phrase's usage.  It is
reliable in another sense as well, that it usually does not attempt to
explain why the phrase arose, thus avoiding the erroneous speculation that
everyone else loves to concoct, but this virtue tends to be frustrating to
readers who crave creation-myths.  Assuming that the OED is not what your
friend would want, then the answer is no, there are no reliable compendia
of phrase origins.  Those works that do exist, such as those by the
Morrises, Ciardi, Hendrickson, etc., are for the most part terrible.

> 2.  specifically, what about THE WHOLE NINE YARDS?  the ADS blurb
> for its faq mentions the expression, but then i found nothing in
> the faq about it.  (this could well be an incompetence in my web
> mastery, of course.)  is there a good discussion of this particular
> expression, especially a discussion someplace accessible to the
> non-academic?

I believe that Jesse's Word of the Day, by our own Jesse Sheidlower, has a
good discussion of this.

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Coeditor (with Jane Garry)
Associate Librarian for Public Services     TRIAL AND ERROR: AN OXFORD
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            ANTHOLOGY OF LEGAL STORIES
Yale Law School                             Oxford University Press, 1998
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               ISBN 0-19-509547-2

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