Posted by Gary on November 22, 2002
No, don't reach for your revolver - I have some news. The earliest printed reference I know of has been pushed back a full three years, to 1967. Not the Whole nine yards as evidence goes perhaps but better than nothing (which is, after all, what we usually get from postings with a WNY heading).
The 1967 reference is 'The Doom Pussy', a novel about the Vietnam War by Elaine Shepard. (ES really had a way with a book title!). The story is full of gung ho carpet bombing and forces' slang, so I was all prepared to see it describing a Dr. Stranglove style bombing incident. Rather disappointingly it refers to the many difficulties one of the story's characters has with unentangling himself from an unwanted marriage.
It isn't clear if the author coined the phrase herself, although the manner of its use in the story would suggest not. It is used in quotes which implies an earlier usage. Also, there's no explanation of the meaning, which also suggests that the author expected the reader to have prior knowledge of that. Ms. Shepard died in September 1998, so it's too late to ask.
The quest goes on. Somehow I feel that the difficulty of finding anything in print prior to the 1960s tends to argue against a World War Two or earlier origin.