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

dave at WILTON.NET dave at WILTON.NET
Mon Oct 5 12:55:17 UTC 2020

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
Sent: Monday, October 5, 2020 6:52 AM
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

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

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