[Ads-l] "filled a sheet nine yards long," 1654 or 1655

dave at WILTON.NET dave at WILTON.NET
Mon Oct 5 14:43:44 EDT 2020


At issue is whether the phrase "nine yards" was an idiom meaning the
entirety of or an excessive amount of, as opposed to there being no such
idiom and such appearances are simple exaggerations. To determine that, you
need to do a statistical comparison of the number of instances of figurative
uses of "one yard," "two yards," "three yards," "four yards," ... "nine
yards," "ten yards," "eleven yards," etc. If "nine yards" appears
significantly more frequently than other numbers, then such early uses might
be legitimate precursors to the idiom "the whole nine yards." If not, then
no such early idiom existed. 

I'm not sure what this has to do with the argument about "copasetic." That's
an entirely different question. As a general rule, the first recorded
appearance of a word is rarely the earliest actual use. Usually, words are
used in speech or ephemeral writing for some period of time before appearing
in a recorded source. And often a person may believe they coined it, when in
fact earlier uses can be shown (e.g., Beyonce and "bootylicious). A good
example is the declining number of first citations by Shakespeare in the
OED. Every three months, as the OED publishes updated entries, the count
decreases a bit as antedatings are discovered. It may very well be that
Bacheller coined the word for his 1919 novel, but we shouldn't assume that
unless we have solid evidence that it is the case. And in fact, the
appearance of the word in unconnected newspaper articles and in song over
the next year or so indicate that the term was in wider use by the time
Bacheller used it.


-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> On Behalf Of Stephen
Goranson
Sent: Monday, October 5, 2020 9:20 AM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: Re: [ADS-L] "filled a sheet nine yards long," 1654 or 1655

Thanks for correcting the citation that I copied--correctly, this time,
though I am a poor typist--from the book cited.

On the other hand, the main issue may not be nine, nor six, or others, as
Bonnie and Fred and others found; "whole nine yards" might sound more
emphatic, or final, or mystical, than other enumerations, most of which are
apparently notional in any case. X yards of communication, including orally,
may not necessarily be measurable, much less actually done, in (feet or
meters) length, nor in area, nor in spatial volume. And not necessarily a
big gap in that sort of usage, as Fred, Garson and I (maybe others) have
offered.

Rather, the main issue may well be in the sense of "yards." Yards has many
senses, perhaps we can agree. X yards is not necessarily a known or natural
limit, of fullness (wholeness, all, entirety) but sometimes an excess.

You, of course, are free to interpret differently, though I am a bit baffled
how you arrive at it. For example, I think I showed that "copasetic" was
rather likely coined by Irving Bacheller, in his well-selling 1919 book and
serialization.
https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=31372
Language Log > Copasetic<https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=31372>
Above is a guest post by Stephen Goranson. I'll note that the OED's entry
for copacetic calls the etymology "Origin unknown", but gives Bacheller's
1919 novel as the first citation.. March 3, 2017 @ 8:20 am . Filed by Mark
Liberman under Etymology. Permalink languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu


There you commented:
"Dave Wilton said,

March 3, 2017 @ 10:33
am<https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=31372#comment-1528397>

I'm skeptical about Bacheller's invention of the word. It seems more likely
that he used a slang term that was "in the air" at the time. The Chicago
Tribune connection is very tenuous. The book review makes no mention of the
word or of the character's language, and it was written by a Sylvia
Parkinson, who apparently contributed only this one review and was not on
the paper's staff. The appearance eight months later in an anonymous
headline cannot be seriously connected to Bacheller's book. And the
appearance in song lyrics that same year hints that it was already in
somewhat widespread use that year."


If there are statistics there, the math eludes me.


In any case, such things may be decided beyond you and me.


Thanks again for correcting the citation.


Stephen Goranson

________________________________
From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of
dave at WILTON.NET <dave at WILTON.NET>
Sent: Monday, October 5, 2020 8:55 AM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Subject: Re: "filled a sheet nine yards long," 1654 or 1655

Some corrections to the seventeenth-century citation. The correct issue is:

Collings, Richard. Weekly Intelligencer, 206, 21-28 February 1653. Early
English Books Online (EEBO).

The date is not 1654. The exact wording in the piece is:

"There was a Bill exhibited this last Sessions against a Counselor for
corruption, which was nine yards in length, and a foot in breadth."

I can't find anything in the 11-18 September 1655 issue; nor can I find the
"beagles" quotation. Given the citation error in the earlier issue, I don't
trust the source to have reported it accurately. Full text search in EEBO
can be hit or miss, so absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I think it's a stretch to link this seventeenth-century line to the
present-day phrase. It's clearly a figurative use, but picking out
individual cases where a writer uses "nine yards" figuratively doesn't tell
us anything of use. You need to search a corpus for figurative uses of "#
yards" and do a statistical comparison of how often "nine yards" appears in
relation to other numbers. If "nine" appears more often than other numbers,
then you have something. But I'd be willing to bet that until the twentieth
century you don't see "nine" appearing in such figurative uses more often
than any other number.

Now if you found a figurative use of "whole nine yards" or "entire nine
yards" from the seventeenth century, that would be really interesting.


-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> On Behalf Of Stephen
Goranson
Sent: Monday, October 5, 2020 6:52 AM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: [ADS-L] "filled a sheet nine yards long," 1654 or 1655

Richard Collings produced The Weekly Intelligencer of the Commonwealth,
supporting Oliver Cromwell.
".Colling's style, if now more subdued, still showed a superior range and
flexibility, as well as an occasional sparkle of humor. With a straight face
he referred to an indictment of a lawyer that filled a sheet nine yards
long, and in his next-to-last number he commented on himself and his
colleagues: "It is with your Writers of Intelligence as with a pack of
Beagles hunting in the field, if one puppy doth make but a faint discovery,
the whole Pack will be ready to clap in, and in a ful cry run themselves out
of breath..'" [endnote 15] Note 15: "Weekly Intelligencer, 206, Feb. 21-28,
1654, p. 178; Sept. 11-18, 1655, p. 34."
Pages 239 and 355 in Joseph Frank, The Beginnings of the English Newspaper:
1620-1660 (Harvard UP, 1961).
(The above mentioned before, but here with extended quotation.) Whole nine
may be related to whole six and all/full/entire x-number (of) yards. Since
yards is often the putative measure of (often excess) communication, that's
why I suggest it may not refer to fabric for clothing. And the measurement
may not be literal. If a kid says she has tons of homework, it's a safe bet
such declaration involved no real mensuration.
Stephen Goranson
PS Thanks Garson, I now have access to my interlibrary loan copy of the
Graphic Science 1969 text. These days it can be harder to assemble paper
resources.


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