Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Whole Nine Yards – A Colloquial American Phrase

The phrase `The whole nine yards’, is a colloquial American phrase which means `everything, the whole lot’, or `all the way’, when used as an adjective. The origin of the phrase is unknown but it has been described as the most prominent etymological riddle of our time. The earliest example ever known with regards to this phrase is from The Mitchell Commercial newspaper in 1907 in a small town of Mitchell, southern Indiana where the expression of the whole six yards is related and used around the same time in Kentucky and South Carolina.

These phrases are variation on the whole ball of wax recorded in the 1880s and were part of a family of expression, where odd sounding item like enchilada, shebang, shooting match or hog was substituted for ball of wax. The number nine option may be related to the expression `to the nines’ – to perfection. Introduction of the phrase to a national audience was done by Elaine Shepard in the Vietnam War navel – The Doom Pussy in 1967 and the use of the phrase become very popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Interest in the phrase’s etymology is attributed to William Safire, New York Time language columnist, who wrote elaborately on this phrase.

Phrase Added to Oxford English Dictionary

Nine Yard Ammuniation
In 1982, William Safire checked with listeners for information on Larry King’s radio show with regards to the origin of the phrase and ended up writing around nine columns pertaining to the subject which is largely responsible for the interest of the content in it. Towards 1986, the phrase was then added to the Oxford English Dictionary together with the earliest citation given as 1970. Various key discoveries for further antedating thephrase had been undertaken by Bonnie Taylor Blake who was a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was an amateur member of the American Dialect society, which was an association of professional and amateur linguists and whose mailing list served as forum for word and phrase discoveries. Taylor Blake in 2012 discovered the 1956 and 1957 uses in Kentucky Happy Hunting Ground and later that same year, she together with Fred R. Shapira found the whole six yards examples during the period 1921 – 1921and received good publicity. Towards 2013, Taylor Blake then posted her discovery of the Mitchell Commercial uses from the period of 1907 – 1914.

The Phrase – A Synonym for Stuff

Nine Yards Saree
The phrase cropped up in several contexts since there were many things which could be measured in square, linear, or cubic yards besides yard-arms, steelyards and much more to account for. The early phrase does not infact refer to yards of any specific material but just to a nonspecific measure i.e. yards. The most likely explanation inspite of the inventive theories though frustrating is that the yards in the phrase is not a reference to any particular object but it is merely a synonym for `stuff’. With advancement of the digitisation of text and newspaper, we could find some means of finding earlier example in print that would throw some insight to what the `yards’ probably meant.

Whole Nine Yards – Give it your all – Various Theories 

The phrase `Whole Nine Yards’ means giving it you’re all, to some, while others refer as `try your best’. According to lexicographer Jonathon Green in his examination slang, states that it is unclear from where the whole nine yards come from. On the basis of most suggestions, he states that it involves standard of measurement, from the dimension of a nun’s habit to the capacity of a cement truck and the length of an ammunition belt to that of a hangman’s rope but the few when checked did run to nine yards. The whole nine yards phrase is derived from American airmen during the World War Two in the Pacific where at that time, the ammunitions belts which were loaded into the wings of the fighter aircraft seemed to be nine yards in length and at times a returning pilot while conveying the intensity of the battle to his ground crew and fellow pilots was heard saying `I gave him the whole nine yards’. But according to Nigel from London, he thinks that this phrase came from an earlier machine gun. He believed that it came from the length of the ammunition belt of a Vickers machine gun and when the gun was tested before World War I, the term which was used was `to give them the whole nine yards’.

Nine Yard ammuniation
Nick Mercer’s belief from England considers it as another type of weapon wherein he states that he had often heard it being referred to the length of 50mm ammunition loaded in each cannon on American planes in World War II and when the enemy aviator pursued relentlessly, they would get `the whole nine yards; of a belt of ammunition. While in American football, if a team would be in possession of the football and gain one yard on their first down, they were urged to gain nine more yard in the next three plays in order to receive another first down enabling them to be in possession of the ball in their drive in gaining a goal. Hence when one yard was gained on the first down, their fans would urge the team on a second down with the phrase `get the whole nine yards’. The expression was used in American culture - He got the whole nine yards.

According to M Desai, Sutton, Surrey, he considers that the phrase could be from India, where women wore sari that was nine yards long. The use of the nine yard sari was very popular during the reign of the Raj but has slowly died down and the saris seen presently are five yards long. Nine yard long saris are now only found in remote areas of the country which are worn by elderly women. Steve’s version was that when something was done without paying heed to the expenses, it was compared to a woman using the whole bolt of fabric in making a dress which was associated with the American and Canadian West, where during the early days frugality was the norm.

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