Question about "the whole three yards" (1882)

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 16 16:40:56 UTC 2014

Any ideas on what, if anything, "the whole three yards" may signify in
the following bit of text from 1882?


We advise our Liberal and Republican friends, who are candidates, to
call on Frank the Barber and get shaved before the election.  After
that time he will charge by the yard, and some of their faces will be
very long -- the whole three yards.

[From "Very Important!," The Orange County Observer (Hillsborough,
North Carolina), 4 November 1882, p. 2, col. 2; via
PDF at link far below.]


I get that the writer is warning that non-Democrat candidates will
soon be disappointed in the election outcome (hence, long faces) and I
get that he has set up the image of a barber charging by the yard (of
long faces), but what I can't really figure out is ending this short
comment with " -- the whole three yards."  Because the writer has used
"yard" a few words earlier, I'm assuming that "the whole three yards"
is pretty much just a reiteration of some big length (something "very
long"), but this makes me wonder whether there *is* a "something."

After a couple days of cautiously thinking about this, I can see that
" -- the whole three yards" may be suggestive of an idiomatic usage,
perhaps in the way "the whole six/nine yards" (ca. 1910) was used to
mean "everything" or "the full extent" or to signify thoroughness.
Perhaps the writer already had the punchline in mind ("the whole three
yards" = complete defeat?) and needed some way to get to it, coming up
with a clunky metaphor involving shaving yards of long faces.  But,
given that there's not much to go on, I admit I may be overreaching.

-- Bonnie

(That PDF will be purged after a week.)

The American Dialect Society -

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