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

dave at WILTON.NET dave at WILTON.NET
Fri Oct 2 12:03:49 UTC 2020

"If this is viewed..."

The "if" is the question. To my mind, this is not same idiom or lexical item
as the "whole [number] yards," meaning the entirety of something.  It is a
straightforward, albeit exaggerated (I doubt it's literal, but perhaps?),
measurement of length. 

If there is a cluster of citations in which the length of newspaper columns
are measured in yards, it may indicate metaphor underlying the idiom, and
that would be something.  If it stands alone in terms of meaning or in time
(which seems to be the case; this is a century or so earlier), then it's
just coincidence.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> On Behalf Of
Shapiro, Fred
Sent: Friday, October 2, 2020 7:52 AM
Subject: [ADS-L] Intriguing 1828 Citation Relating to "Whole Nine Yards"


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

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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