Front-Page New York Times Story on "The Whole Nine Yards"

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 27 14:02:02 UTC 2012

On Wed, Dec 26, 2012 at 7:56 PM, Dan Goncharoff <thegonch at> wrote:

> Great article. I have to say, though, that I remain confused. As both 6
> cubic yards and nine cubic yards are standard sizes for hauling, how does
> the shift from 6 to 9 refute the cubic yard theory?

Me, I don't think we're at the point that we can firmly close the door
on theories having to do with hauling/excavating or fabric lengths and
similar, but I do think we've gotten close to demonstrating that the
general idiom likely relied on "yards" as metaphor for "lengthy or
thorough presentation [of news, anecdotes, play-by-play, etc.]."
There's plenty of evidence from a century ago that folks used "yards,"
which I read as linear/square yards, in just that way.

Importantly, I think, Fred's first find [1], from May 1912, includes
"they will tell the whole six yards" (later sightings from 1912 and
1916 use "give" instead of "tell"), which I see as strengthening the
case for a lengthy oral or written presentation, like the delivering
of whole yards of words, and lessens the likelihood of a reference to
capacities of haulers/excavators of the day or yards of calico, etc.
Of course, that assumes that the 1912/1916 usages closely parallel the
earliest form(s) of the expression (hard to know how far we'd have to
go back to find that), which may not be the case.

By the way, several months ago I was able to piece together who was
using "the whole six yards" in *The Mt. Vernon [Kentucky] Signal* a
century ago.  The paper's correspondent from Livingston was William
Will/Bill) Martin Owens (1866-1944), born and raised in nearby Level
Green (Rockcastle County) and in neighboring Pulaski County; at some
point he settled down in Livingston.  At the time I wasn't able to
figure out what W.M. Owens did for a living, but he seems to have been
an upstanding member of the community, enough so that he was tasked
with reporting happenings in Livingston to the publisher in Mt.

-- Bonnie


"But there is one thing sure, we dems would never have known that
there was such crookedness in the Republican 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."

The American Dialect Society -

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