[Ads-l] Possible riff on "the whole nine yards" (1932)

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Fri Jan 24 09:14:30 UTC 2020

Well, Bonnie, imo you are the world's leading expert on this phrase, so your posts should be especially, wholly, considered.

Stephen Goranson

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Bonnie Taylor-Blake <b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Thursday, January 23, 2020 2:24 PM
Subject: [ADS-L] Possible riff on "the whole nine yards" (1932)

Something silly, but here's a (likely) play on "the full/whole nine yards"
from 1932.

"Nothing is doing more to kill moving pictures that the inconsistencies
that creep into practically every film, making a flop of the whole nine
hundred yards. I remember on one occasion I got up and walked out of a
theatre when, in an African jungle scene, the camera man swung his picture
machine too far and picked up about half-a-mile of beautiful pike road with
a row of four-arm telephone poles along the side."

(From Howard Chitty's "Bolts and Nuts" column, The Mitchell [Indiana]
Tribune, 8 September 1932, p. 2.)

I know what you're thinking: "the whole nine hundred yards" doesn't seem
like a play on the idiom since it can easily be understood as just a
reference to [some big number] of yards of film on a movie reel.

But readers here may recognize Mitchell, Indiana. It's where the earliest
usages of the idiomatic "the full/whole nine yards" come from. (At least,
that's what we have so far.) That handful appeared in The Mitchell
Commercial between 1907 and 1914.

Given that no bylines appeared for the Mitchell Commercial pieces in which
the idiom appeared 1907-1914, I had noted in a piece for Gerry Cohen's
*Comments on Etymology* (March-April 2014) that,

"At the time The Mitchell Commercial was owned and published by Howard
Chitty (1867-1953), a native of Mitchell (and son of Lawrence County
natives) who had moved to Kansas to learn the newspaper trade [reference
given]. It stands to reason that Chitty, who bought the newspaper upon his
return to Mitchell in 1897, was responsible for at least one or two of
these usages in this small-town paper."

I'd suggest two things, then, about this 1932 text from Howard Chitty: 1)
it reinforces that Chitty may well have been responsible for some of the
earliest usages (ca. 1910), and 2) his "the whole nine hundred yards" reads
as a clever mingling of the original idiom (to refer, as I like to think,
to an entire, perhaps lengthy story or account) with an increase in the
number to "nine hundred" to winkingly refer to the physical form of film.

-- Bonnie

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