Question about "the whole three yards" (1882)

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 17 01:12:30 UTC 2014

On Fri, May 16, 2014 at 1:23 PM, Jonathan Lighter
<wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:

> This inclines me to agree that "the whole three yards" may well have been a
> predecessor of "the whole nine yards."

Thanks, Jon, for this and for the rest of your reply.  I'm now more
encouraged to think that this instance of "the whole three yards"
probably reflects a then-known phrase/expression and perhaps further
that this may have been used idiomatically.  Maybe in this particular
case for, what, "the full treatment"?

In any event, as these databases expand, perhaps we'll be able to
increase the n and determine if this 1882 sighting is indeed related
to later appearances of the larger idiom.

> East Central
> North Carolina, moreover, is at least arguably in the same general Midland
> dialect area as Kentucky, where you found the earliest "nine yards" usage.

If this "the whole three yards" holds up to scrutiny and we find other
instances of its use, its cropping up in central North Carolina in
1882 allows us to connect "the whole six yards" in northwestern South
Carolina (1921) to "the whole six yards" in east central Kentucky
(1912), which links to "the full/whole nine yards" in southern Indiana
(1907/1908).  At least this handful of sightings for the moment
suggests a sweep across the upper South.

> The next question is, of course, "Why 'three yards'?"

Yeah, I really hate that question.

-- Bonnie

The American Dialect Society -

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