Discovery on "Whole Nine Yards"

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Mon Apr 26 04:28:55 UTC 2004

On Apr 25, 2004, at 11:31 PM, Dave Wilton wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Discovery on "Whole Nine Yards"
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On
>> Behalf
>> Of Fred Shapiro
>> Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2004 8:06 PM
>> Subject: Discovery on "Whole Nine Yards"
>> I have discovered some significant new evidence on "whole nine yards."
>> Stephen Goranson has energetically promoted the theory that "whole
>> nine
>> yards" derives from "yards" referring to the Montagnard tribes in
>> Vietnam.
>> I don't think too many people find this convincing, but Mr. Goranson
>> has
>> performed the useful service of emphasizing that all the earliest
>> known
>> citations were from a Vietnam War context, suggesting some kind of
>> Vietnam-related origin.
>> However, I have now found what I believe is the second oldest
>> occurrence
>> of "whole nine yards" (Elaine Shepard's 1967 Vietnam-related book
>> _Doom
>> Pussy_ is the oldest known). yields the
>> following:
>> 1969 _Playground Daily News_ (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) 25 Apr. 15
>> (advertisement)  This home has the "whole nine yards" in convenience.
>> It is of course possible that "whole nine yards" could have
>> disseminated
>> from a Vietnam origin to Florida in the three or more years between
>> when
>> it was first used in the Vietnam War and 1969.  However, 1969 is early
>> enough to suggest that the term may have originated in the United
>> States
>> rather than in Indochina.
> Note that Fort Walton Beach is home to Eglin Air Force Base. So an Air
> Force
> connection (as in _Doom Pussy_) remains a viable possibility.
> --Dave Wilton
>   dave at

The US military was already in Viet-Nam, to use the spelling of those
days, in 1959, that's plenty of time for a bit of military slang to
have percolated Stateside by 1969. On the other hand, the amount of
military slang that has made its way into Civilian English is
vanishingly small, to coin a phrase, there being a great disconnect
between the military lifestyle and the civilian lifestyle, even in
"peacetime." All you have to do to get the picture is to hear some old
soldier about to give a lecture on "Field Tactics for The Small Army
Unit" preface his remarks with, "If you men are ever in combat - and by
GOD! I hope you never are!!!" and see him start to foam at the mouth as
his memories overwhelm him. You will find yourself in complete
agreement with his wish. I guess Dubyuh missed out on that in the Air
National Guard, but Powell should have run it down to him.

-Wilson Gray

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