Posted by John Whitton on November 15, 1999
In Reply to: The deal posted by Gary Martin on November 11, 1999
: : : : I have seen and heard messages about this phrase coming from cement trucks and scottish kilt makers, but I believe this to be wrong. The phrase was made in reference to gunners in World War 2. The ammunition belts of a 50 calliber machine gun (used to shoot at enemy planes) were 27 feet long (nine yards). If the gunner used his entire belt of ammunition on a plane, he was giving him, "The Whole nine yards." If this is not true, I would like someone to send me another answer with some supporting evidence. I always thought that this was just common knowledge?
: : : Ok, I'm offering the First Annual Transatlantic 9 Yards Grand Prize... to the first person to find an authentic text reference, dated pre-1946, citing "the whole 9 yards" as referring to a machine-gun belt, I will award a "Phrase Derivation Super Sleuth" certificate (with gold seal) ... plus a $1 Cash Bonus. If indeed it was common knowledge, there ought to be at least a few hundred citations available in WWII newspapers, magazines, books, newsreels, whatever. Happy hunting!
: : But if we knew for sure, that would spoil the fun.
: I love this - it may go on forever... There has
: to be a PhD in this for some sociology student.
: Lots of people 'know' for sure. When questioned though, what
: they know is that someone told them. And how did
: they know? That's right - someone told them. If
: you want hate mail just question their belief.
: Humility? - forget it. Personally I'm finding
: the strength of feelings of people who 'know'
: something they clearly don't is more interesting
: than the origin of the phrase itself. My pet
: theory is that people get some kudos from possessing
: knowledge that others don't have. Having that
: knowledge questioned takes something away from
: them that they thought they owned - hence
: the agression. (psychoanalysis over - back to
: phrase origins)...
: I'd love to see a text reference dated pre-1970.
: The earliest text reference I can find is cited
: in the OED as from a publication called Word
: Watching, Apr 1970.
: I have had a contact from an ex-serviceman who
: says he used the phrase during WWII himself.
: That's good enough for me to date the phrase as
: pre-1970. Of course that doesn't mean that it
: originated in the armed forces, nor does it rule
: out any of the theories. Any of them could have
: originated pre-WWII.
: Anyone who is new to this read
: before posting another 'I know for sure'.
Completely irrelevant to the ammunition belt discussion, but an
example of how a good expression can have extended uses:
Some years ago, I had to dig a trench in my yard, dispose of the diggings, and re-fill it with purchased gravel. The truck delivered 9 cubic yards of gravel, all of which I transported to the trench by hand. Also by hand, I loaded the 9 cubic yards of earth I had removed and transported it out. Shifting 9 times 3 emphasized the meaning for me: the whole damn thing!