[Ads-l] Intriguing 1828 Citation Relating to "Whole Nine Yards"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Fri Oct 2 11:51:41 UTC 2020


As members of this list may remember, I believe that the 1850 citation found by Richard Bucci in a Missouri newspaper, referring to "nine yards" as the length of an epistle, is the same idiom as "whole nine yards."  I have been trying to find other similar citations in the 1800s and have found several of them.  The earliest is the following, which I think is extremely intriguing:

1828 _Vermont Chronicle_ (Bellows Falls, Vt.) 20 June 3/4 (Newspapers.com)  [Referring to a British House of Commons debate:]  Sir F. Burdett then rose and addressed the house in a speech _six yards long_, measuring the close columns of the London papers.

If this is viewed as being the same idiom as "whole nine yards," then it seems to (1) push back the idiom to the early 1800s; (2) give new life to the theory that "six yards" was the original idiom rather than "nine yards"; (3) introduce a possible British context to the idiom.  AND, since the most important question about the idiom is "six or nine yards of what?," this citation could be regarded as establishing the length of newspaper articles (or their hyperbolic length) as the answer to that question.

Fred Shapiro

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

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