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

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Thu Dec 27 14:24:46 UTC 2012

Although as a teenager about 40 years ago I spent a summer inspecting concrete pouring on a construction site, I don't know anything about concrete trucks.  I also don't believe in spending energy disproving colorful unsubstantiated etymologies that, as I say in the New York Times article, are almost always fallacious.  I'll just note that an anti-concrete-truck-etymology argument may perhaps be based on the capacity of concrete trucks in 1912 not being 6 cubic yards.  I don't know for sure that that's correct, but, quoting, says the following:

"Newspaper columnist and language commentator James Kirkpatrick favors the explanation that it is a reference to the capacity of ready-mix concrete trucks (Fine Print: Reflections on the Writing Art). Safire also plumps for this explanation. This explanation, however, is somewhat questionable as the August 1964 issue of Ready Mixed Concrete magazine gives an average concrete mixer as having a capacity of four and a half cubic yards "just a few years ago" and an average of under six and a half in 1962. A 1988 source (Cecil Adams in More of the Straight Dope), states current mixers range from seven to ten cubic yards, with a rough average of nine. While current averages may be on target, when the phrase arose, the average cement payload was less than four and a half cubic yards. So the cement truck explanation is probably incorrect."

A seemingly stronger piece of evidence, if correct, is this statement from Wikipedia:

"Stephen Stepanian filed a patent application for the first truck mixer in 1916."

Fred Shapiro
YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Dan Goncharoff [thegonch at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 7:56 PM
Subject: Re: Front-Page New York Times Story on "The Whole Nine Yards"

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?

On Wednesday, December 26, 2012, Shapiro, Fred wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU<javascript:;>
> >
> Poster:       "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU <javascript:;>>
> Subject:      Front-Page New York Times Story on "The Whole Nine Yards"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Tomorrow's New York Times will have a story about the recent discoveries
> by=
>  Bonnie Taylor-Blake and me about the etymology of the phrase "the whole
> ni=
> ne yards."  I believe the story is going to be on the front page of the
> pri=
> nt newspaper.  Ben Zimmer and Jesse Sheidlower are also quoted, and Sam
> Cle=
> ments is mentioned.  The ADS-L list serv is referred to, and there is a
> lin=
> k to Barry Popik's website.  The online version is already up:
> ses-origin.html
> Fred Shapiro
> Editor
> YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -


The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list