[Ads-l] "the whole Mary Ann" (1950) and a theory

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 26 20:22:51 UTC 2018

In 1995, listmember Dan Goodman forwarded Jan Gorden's query from the

"Dear Fellow Wombats -- We have a patron who is looking for the etymology
of the phrase 'the whole Mary Ann (or Marianne)'. Several of us here in
southern Oregon have heard this phrase and the general consensus is that it
means 'the whole enchilada, kit and caboodle', etc. But we can't find
anything that SAYS that's what it means. We have checked all our phrase
books, quote books, slang dictionaries, and so on. Many thanks in advance."


It doesn't appear that anyone followed up on this, so -- fond of these
expressions -- I went looking for some early usages of this seldom-used
idiom. Better late than never.

I should note first that DARE documents "Mary Ann(e)" as an adjective.

1872 Twain Roughing It 455, [In Honolulu] I saw cats—Tomcats, Mary Ann
cats, long-tailed cats, bob-tailed cats.
1916 DN 4.342 seOH, Mary Ann. Vile; low; mean; e.g. “That is a Mary Anne
saloon.” [DN Ed: “A Queen Anne front and Mary Ann back.” N. Eng. . . Also
N. Car. . . ]
[Ibid, Queen Anne. Beautiful: opposite of Mary Anne, q.v.]

And Jon Lighter's "The Slang of the American Expeditionary Forces in
Europe, 1917-1919: An Historical Glossary" (American Speech 47: 5-142,
1972) mentions "all to the Mary-Ann" (1929) with the meaning
"satisfactory"; this is one of those "San Fairy Ann"/"Mary Ann" forms
evolving from "ça ne fait rien."

(OED lists three meanings: "[a]n effeminate man, or one who takes a female
role; a homosexual man," "a marijuana cigarette," and "a taximeter.")

I suspect that "the whole Mary Ann idea of city government" in the 1920
excerpt (below) may have to do with a "Mary Ann ballot," an occasionally
complex, sometimes unfair three- (or more) candidate ballot scheme that
depended on voters ranking their candidate choices (sometimes in multiple
voting rounds), then in place in Ohio and elsewhere. "Mary Ann ballot" goes
back at least to 1905. (There was no further mention of "Mary Ann" in that
1920 editorial.)

I'm at a loss to know how this type of balloting acquired its name, but I
think it's at least possible that the "Mary Ann" voting mechanism may have
given rise to "the whole Mary Ann," a phrase signifying "the whole lot; a
collection of things; the whole thing."

Unless someone comes up with a better theory (or 19th-c instances of "the
whole Mary Ann").

-- Bonnie


For us to have raised that point would have been to arm those who know of
our latent objection to the whole Mary Ann idea of city government with the
specious argument that we were trying to kill the blessed and innocent
charter for all the glory and advancement of the Republican party.

[From "Is the Charter Any Good?", The Akron (OH) Beacon Journal, 1 January
1920, p. 4.]


"The thing had no name until a friend of mine used it in Southeastern
Alaska in a stream where rainbows, cutthroats, Dolly Vardens and salmon all
abounded. He beat the heck out of me with my own creation, and, when he
said 'Man, this catches 'em all; the whole Mary Ann of 'em,' the name was

[From a description of the "Alaska Mary Ann Bucktail," a type of fishing
lure, in Joseph D. Bates, Jr., _Streamer Fly Fishing in Fresh and Salt
Water_ (D. Van Nostrand Co., 1950, p. 241).]


Such a procedure would result in the whole Mary Ann going under a log jam
at the first sharp bend, and it wouldn't come out either.

[From a Google snippet view of Jay P. Williams's _Alaskan Adventure_
(Stackpole Company, 1952). Williams is discussing how not to maneuver a
boat downstream.]


SACRIFICE ILL HEALTH -- man and wife variety store. Lower overhead; stock,
fixtures, the whole Mary Ann, See Bill at H. de Waard Real Estate,
Sutherlin, Oregon, Ph. 2142 P.O. Box 241.

[A classified ad in The News-Review (Roseburg, OR), 3 September 1954, p.


324 Mixed cattle, 1,300 A. Deeded Modoc Co. 520 A. Irrig. Free water puts
up spprox. 400 T. hay, 6-40 A. high Mt. meadow, long lease at S270. yearly,
3 Tractors all equip. large reservoir, 3 bdr. home the whole Mary Ann
$183,000. $29% down.

[From a classified ad in The Sacramento Bee, 27 April 1961, p. C17.]


In Detroit when you talk about "the whole marianne" you mean the whole

[Arthur Unger's piece about teen slang, "The Creep Is Gone," The
(Louisville, KY) Courier Journal, 18 June 1961, Section 3, p. 6.]


Keppler scores the bottle with a red-hot iron. If it doesn't explode in the
process he wraps the whole Mary-Ann with with [sic] adhesive tape, then
comes a covering of fancy ribbons.

[From Philip Harding's "The Cheerful Vintner" column, The Bakersfield
Californian, 29 May 1963, p. 14. This phrase seems to have been a favorite
of his.]

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list