The Whole Six Yards of It

Dan Goncharoff thegonch at GMAIL.COM
Sat Sep 8 16:17:13 UTC 2012

Could the fact that standard sizes for haulers back then (for coal, logs,
or concrete) were six-yard, nine-yard, twelve-yard and 18-yard have played
a part in the use of the phrase?


On Sat, Sep 8, 2012 at 8:38 AM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: The Whole Six Yards of It
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Looking at the newspaper page more carefully than I did previously, I
> think Dave is right on the mark here.  This may well be a precursor version
> of "the whole nine yards."  There is an article in the first column of the
> page about this same baseball game, then there is a second item that gives
> a more detailed account.  The second item is the "whole six yards" of the
> game story, the exhaustive version, thus appearing to use "whole six yards"
> in a very similar way to the later usage of "whole nine yards."
> Fred Shapiro
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Dave
> Wilton [dave at WILTON.NET]
> Sent: Saturday, September 08, 2012 7:56 AM
> Subject: Re: The Whole Six Yards of It
> I disagree and think this may indeed be a predecessor of "the whole nine
> yards," although that's a very tentative conclusion as this is an early and
> isolated appearance.
> "Yard" is not all that common a term for a ball field. Yes, it is attested,
> but it is relatively rare, and the simple use of "yard" in a headline would
> not immediately bring to mind a ball field, even in a baseball context.
> Furthermore and more importantly, the article is not about the league and
> provides no information about how the other five teams are faring, as one
> would expect if the title referred to the league. Instead, it is about the
> Spartanburg Spinner's previous day's game against Greenville, giving a more
> detailed, inning-by-inning prose account of the game. This fits the current
> sense of "the whole nine yards" perfectly--it provides a lengthier, more
> detailed description than the usual short article accompanied by a box
> score
> that make up most newspaper accounts.
> Finally, there are many examples of phrases with numbers that went through
> multiple versions with different numerical values before settling on the
> one
> that became canonical (e.g., "cloud nine"). It would not be surprising if
> "the whole nine yards" had other numbers in the phrase in its early
> incarnations.
> Looking through other issues of the paper that are available on Google (I'm
> not sure how much is available to those of you in the States; Google does
> not provide full-view display of many of its texts to those of us north of
> the border), the paper does have a semi-regular feature called "Running 'Em
> Out" by A. G. Keeney (see 5 August 1921 for an example) that serves the
> same
> function, only giving the detailed account of the game player-by-player
> instead of inning-by-inning. Perhaps Keeney was off that day and someone
> else filled in using a different format. Or perhaps, given that Google only
> displays about 5% of the issues of this paper, the "Whole Six Yards" is a
> regular feature that alternates with Keeney's column, only Google has
> chosen
> to make available only this one example.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of
> Stephen Goranson
> Sent: Saturday, September 08, 2012 6:33 AM
> Subject: Re: The Whole Six Yards of It
> Well, when I pointed out offlist the second article about the same game on
> the same page, and, under it, the league standings, listing the six
> teams--"How they Stand" (they being Columbia, Greenville, Charlotte,
> Charleston, Augusta, Spartanburg)--I gave my view that "The Whole Six Yards
> of It" refers to these six teams, and their ball yards, and the It is the
> South Atlantic league.
> This, I suggest, is no precursor of "the whole nine yards" unless we take
> precursor in a weak sense with vanishingly-small context. Of course there
> is
> the pattern "the whole X" (shebang etc.) which in some sense could be
> called
> a precursor, but whole nine yards likely had a literal referent before it
> became figurative. And I think that literal referent more likely comes not
> from what OED lists as yard noun 2 (stick, 36 inches, etc.) but from noun
> 1,
> which includes, among other things, shipyards [and 9 shipyards were not
> mentioned only once, in 1942] and... baseball yards.
> E.g., from OED
>  ballyard n. Baseball = ballpark n. 1.
> 1897   Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gaz. 26 Aug. 5/3   One of the most
> sensational plays made at the ball yard this season.
> 2002   D. Martin & B. Martin Best of San Francisco (ed. 5) i. 26   Pacific
> Bell Park has the look of a grand old ballyard with its brick façade.
> [An off-topic question: why is Camden Yards plural?]
> I find largely non-persuasive Arnold Zwicky's April 10, 2009 blogpost "The
> Whole X." Among other things, AZ wrote: "I’m going to suggest that this
> might be a fruitless search, akin to asking who the original Mac, Joe,
> Charlie, Stan, etc. was in vocatives addressed to men." I don't find the
> two
> "akin" in any stong sense (especially for the misheard Stan.)
> Entire and full nine yards are plausibly seen as later variants of whole
> nine yards, as is nine yards of goodies.
> In "...all going into a common report when the whole nine yards gets
> wrapped
> up" note that the project is not identical with the later report.
> Stephen Goranson
> <>
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of
> Bonnie
> Taylor-Blake [b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM]
> Sent: Saturday, September 08, 2012 2:42 AM
> Subject: [ADS-L] The Whole Six Yards of It
> Well, since Fred Shapiro has just brought up "the whole nine yards" and
> Geoff Nunberg has just mentioned (potential) baseball apocrypha ...
> Any thoughts on what's at the following link?  You'll find an article
> published 7 May 1921 describing, inning by inning, a just-completed
> baseball
> game between the Spartanburg Spartans and the Greenville Spinners.
>  The article is titled "The Whole Six Yards of It."
> ,
> 2164793&dq=whole-six+yards-of-it&hl=en
> Here are a few things we do know.  Both South Carolina squads were in the
> six-team South Atlantic (minor) league.  Further, another description of
> the
> ballgame can be found in the upper left of the whole page.  And, finally,
> this doesn't appear to have been the title of a regular column:
>  as far as I can tell, "The Whole Six Yards of It" was used just once in
> issues of the *Spartanburg Herald-Tribune* appearing in Google's news
> archive.
> What, if anything, do we make of the paper's use of "The Whole Six Yards of
> It"?
> -- Bonnie
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