whole nine yards

Herb Stahlke hstahlke at GW.BSU.EDU
Thu Jun 29 00:42:45 UTC 2000

The story I read, the one I passed on to Arnold Zwicky, was essentially the same, but set in Britain.  Has anyone ever checked the length of those ammo belts?  Do we have here the common sorts of variants on a myth?  I look forward to reading your paper.

Herb Stahlke

<<< gcohen at UMR.EDU  6/28  2:54p >>>
    I have treated  "the whole nine yards" in the following working paper:
Gerald Cohen: "_Whole Nine Yards_ --  Most Plausible Derivation Seems To Be
>From WWII fighter pilots' usage." _Comments on Etymology_, Nov. 1998, vol.
28, no. 2, pp.1-4.

   The _San Diego Union Tribune_, March 11, 1997, sec. E, pp.1,3 contains
an article entitled "Show Me the Phrases!" by staff writer Gil Griffin.
Griffin had interviewed Thomas Donahue, a San Diego State University
linguistics professor for the article, and one part particularly caught my
    '"The whole nine yards" has origins in World War II...It came from
World War II fighter pilots in the South Pacific," Donahue said, recalling
a letter he received about the phrase.
    "The pilots had .50 caliber machine gun ammunition belts that measured
27 feet.  If the pilots fired all their ammo at a target, they said they
let go the whole nine yards.
    "The saying remains, 50--plus years later," Donahue said, "because it's
still an easy way to  express totality."'

     Also, independently of this above-quoted item, I received a note from
one of my neighbors:
   'The machine guns of a North American P-51 Mustang were fed by
ammunition belts that were 27 feet long.  After a pilot emptied his guns on
a target, he would say that he "gave 'em the whole nine yards."'

     There are four other hypotheses advanced for the origin of "the whole
nine yards," but none of those four seems convincing.

------Gerald Cohen

gcohen at umr.edu

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