[Ads-l] A recent revision to the OED's online "the whole nine yards" entry

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Thu Jan 14 13:04:18 UTC 2016

I agree with remarkable researcher Bonnie that the OED's suggestion regarding the 1855 joke link is iffy, at best.

Also, and it may be that Bonnie and I agree on this (not having reread the enormous archive): that wherever the specific collocation took off, the origin is not (reversing my previous supposition) in any 36-inch type literal historic referent, but in the sense "at great length, without end," and the like, as attested earlier in OED and in, um, yards of quotations in the archive.

Stephen Goranson

From: American Dialect Society <...> on behalf of Jonathan Lighter <...>
Sent: Thursday, January 14, 2016 7:41 AM
To: ...
Subject: Re: [ADS-L] A recent revision to the OED's online "the whole nine yards" entry

> The fifty-year gap between the anecdote and the idiomatic use of the
 seems to suggest that the anecdote is apparently not the origin of the idi

We simply don't know, and probably will never know, because we have no way
of knowing the oral (as opposed to the journalistic) circulation of the
story after the 1850s when it was no longer "newsworthy."

We certainly don't know the half-life of a newspaper joke in the 19th

What we do know, thanks to Bonny's indefatigable research, is that the
severe restriction of early exx. of the phrase to the Ky.-Ind. border (or,
as the young people say, "the KY/IN border") seems to show its effective
_terminus a quo_.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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