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The meaning and origin of the expression: The whole nine yards

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The whole 'whole nine yards' enchilada

Here's a warning for you. If you are thinking of writing a web page about the origin of the phrase 'the whole nine yards', prepare yourself for a snowstorm of email. Over the years that I've been publishing such a page I have had hundreds of emails from people who pity my ignorance of the source of the phrase and wish to inform the world that they KNOW the origin. The capital letters are a common feature of these emails and, if emails can have a body language, then these examples convey an impression of a puce-faced gentleman (and congratulate your gender ladies, my correspondents are almost always male), pounding the keyboard with his fists and shouting a lot.

The origins put forward are astonishingly various and, by definition, as there can be but one actual origin of the phrase, almost all entirely wrong. The one thing that the mails received have in common is a total lack of supporting documentary evidence. Such evidence as is offered comes in two forms - "I was told that..." and "I have always thought that...", these are occasionally backed up by some uncorroborated hearsay. The vehement certainty expressed by so many individuals who hold onto a false belief with so little reason is, to my mind at least, more interesting than the etymology of the phrase itself.

Here are the current percentage scores.

Whole nine yards

To demonstrate the unique power that this phrase has over the folk-etymology community, and for your general amusement, here's a small selection from the mails received:

(Note: the mails are original and unedited, with the names and addresses removed - the sarcastic comments in italics are my impromptu responses).

March 2002:

I am certain that the phrase "The Whole Nine Yards" originated with W.W.II aircraft .50 calibre machine guns ammunition belts. The .50 calibre, both in heavy bombers and in fighter aircraft had 27 foot ammunition belts. It became a common phrase to say that a pilot or gunner "gave 'em the whole nine yards" when they had run out of ammunition.

(As usual, certainty, but no reason for it.)

November 2005:

"The whole nine yards" - 9 yards of cloth is required to make a complete man's 3 piece suit.

(Actually, it isn't, but let's not let the facts get in the way.)

July 2006:

My Gawdd, you young people don't know history, because few of you read past WWII, if that far back. The whole nine yards, is a simple football term, urging the team to go for another first down. I'm 86 years old, and I've heard it said since Georgia Tech played Notre Dame - back in the Civil War or some such year. (Yeah, I know)

Your research has been done, apparently, on the printed word. This is a verbal portion of history, and there were few reasons to print it until some began to get scientific and did the so-called "research!" Verbal, only! Get it?

You need a historian, as well as a researcher on your staff.

(Rude, ignorant and wrong. Good effort, but for full marks you also need capital letters. Note the mistaken attempt to make me into 'young people' - two words, two mistakes, again, good effort.)

July 2006:

Just in case you don't know much about American Football, the most important unit if measurement is the 'Yard'.  Players have to get a minimum if 10 yards in 4 attempts to hold onto possession thus THE WHOLE NINE YARDS could mean still a lot to do, practically all of it, a long way to go to get  the job done etc etc

(Capitals and italics - interesting use of emphasis and an inventive leap of the imagination, in linking nine yards with ten yards.)

July 2006:

Saris are made in sizes of 6 yds (Most popular), 7 yds (Used in South India) and 9 yds (Used only by old fashioned and traditional folks). The 9yd sari is also worn some times during traditional functions and during marriages.

Thus you can readily see that "the whole nine yards" could be referring to the full length of the longest sari. Since a few words adapted into english do have Indian origins, this one could be too.

('Could be'? Come on, you just aren't trying.)

July 2006:

worked in masonry for about 10 years, and ran my own company for 4.  When I ordered concrete I had the option of a light load, less than 3 yards but you had to pay for 3, more than 3 but less than 9, then pay by the yard, or "The whole nine yards". 

Also, when ordering concrete you always requested more than the estimated need.  The extra would be dumped.  Occassionally as you would be pouring toward the end of the load it became obvious that the whole load would be needed to complete the pour, and I would literally say, " Give me the whole nine yards".

At that time, late '70's, 9 yard trucks were the standard, but smaller ones were 7 yards, and some newer trucks were 10 yard capacity.  So I agree that in the '60's trucks were probably less than 9 yard capacity.

(Late 70s. After the phrase was in common use, you mean?)

March 2007:

The problem in identifying the origin of this expression is that the 'Yards' in the expression do not refer to the unit of measurement but to the Montagnards, or Yards as their Special Forces US allies refered to them, a tribal people from the Highland region of South Vietnam.

(Okay, thanks for sharing.)

July 2007:

I do not have evidence regarding the origin of the phrase. But I do have evidence of its use in the current sense prior to 1961, which is the date of origin suggested by you.

Plains Anthropologist - Page 367 by Plains Anthropologiacl Society (U.S.) - 1954 "After all, many institutions who order therefrom cannot afford the whole nine yards, or in this case, the whole nine stages."

There is also a reference in The New Leader by American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Social Democratic Federation of America - 1935 available at the University of Michigan library.

(Wow, the Holy Grail, evidence! Regrettably, on checking these sources, they are entirely false. The Plains Anthropological Society know nothing of any such citation and there is no such 1935 reference. Pity, I was all excited there for a moment.)

July 2007:

I'm writing about the phrase "the whole nine yards". You are correct when you say the phrase originated with the US military circa 1960. This phrase was coined by the US Army Infantry School to talk about the "three second rush". The "three second rush" is how an Infantryman moves while under fire. The theory is that one can be exposed while running for no more than three seconds before an enemy acquires and fires on him. Thus, one has three seconds to get up, run, and fall back to earth....(then roll away from where he fell so the enemy can't just shoot at where he saw you fall).
Now guess how far you were told you could rush/run in three seconds. That's right....Nine Yards. The constant exortation from the Sergeants was to not stop short because going just a yard or two was pointless, and extremely dangerous. If the rush was to have any effect, one had to go "The whole nine yards".
It didn't take any time at all for this phrase to become THE EXPRESSION for following through or completing any task to standard throughout the Army. And gradually, it seeped into the public mind....just like ASAP.
How do I know this? Because I was a drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Georgia when the three second rush was introduced and witnessed the genesis of this phrase. It started out as a Drill Sergeant phrase, was passed on--emphatically-- to young Infantrymen, spread throughout the Army, and is now common vernacular.

("Emphatically". But of course, I would expect no less.)

July 2007:

"the whole nine yards" comes from an old sailing phrase. a sail was 3 yards three masted ship would let out the "whole nine yards"

(Why is that again? Oh, you 'heard it'. Must be true then.)

August 2007:

"The whole nine yards" If you check Scottish and other British sources, you'll find the phrase goes back at least to the mid-1800s.
My Scottish father-in-law told me that due to the parsimony of many Scots, they would order their traditional kilt (part of which is draped over the shoulder) made from 7 or 8 yards of wool in order to save money. Only a few would go for "the whole nine yards" which would result in a fuller and more comfortable garment.

("Sources" They sound authoritative, it's a pity you made them up.)

August 2007:

"the whole nine yards" surely derives from the game of American football where the objective of the offense is to move the ball ten yards forwards in four plays or "downs". If, after three downs the ball has only been moved forward one yard, then the final down has to cover the remaining nine yards or the ball passed to the opposition. Hence the final down has to cover the whole nine yards.

("Surely" - say no more.)

September 2007:

I always thought, going back to the 60's, that the phrase "the whole nine yards" referred to the entire contents of a standard concrete truck. Example: "Put the whole nine yards over there.", as opposed to "Put some 3 yards here and the rest there, etc."

(You "always thought". That's good to know.)

November 2007:

With regards to your research on origins of "whole nine yards"...I have heard several times that is relates back to one of the items you allude to on your site...["The explanation refers to World War II aircraft" The length of US bombers bomb racks/The length of RAF Spitfire's machine gun bullet belts. The length of ammunition belts in ground based anti-aircraft turrets, etc.] Apparently if they shot out all their ammunition they would refer to the fact that they went "the whole nine yards"

(You "have heard" - fascinating, you should talk to the guy above. Good use of the meaningless weasel-word "apparently", incidentally.)

January 2008:

Just been reading on the meaning of "the whole nine yards". I'm fairly sure I found it mentioned in the Royal Armoury in Leeds, UK, that it was used in relation to the length of the belt of ammnuition of a Lewis macine gun, and was coined in WWI. Give them the whole nine yards means fire the complete belt off.

("Fairly sure" - okay, I'm convinced.)

February 2008:

I have a theory on 'a whole nine yards'. In fact the moment i looked looked at it again, what struck me seems pretty obvious to anyone who knows about Indian costumes. Nine yards is the exact length of traditional Indian Sarees. It is common belief to compare complicated and long-drawn things with the 'nine-yard saree'. A citation is that of the story of the Mahabharata - when Dushasana, the wicked brother of Duryodhana, started pulling on the saree of Draupadi, thinking it would only unwind to nine yards, but Lord Krishna intervened and ensured that the other end of the saree was like a never-ending supply of a saree length !

("Theory" - at last, a reasonable, if highly unlikely, view.)

February 2008:

Wet concrete is measured in yards. As one would expect, a yard of concrete measures three feet by three feet by three feet. A concrete truck holds nine yards which must be emptied within an hour or two of being mixed. When pouring concrete you pay for delivery as well as the concrete itself; it follows that your best price per yard is obtained by building forms whose volume approaches, but does not exceed a full truck. Maximum strength, minimum waste. Not an exact science, so a common jobsite conversation goes: "How'd your pour go? Did you have a lot left over?" "Nahh, man, my form was dead on. It took the whole nine yards."

(To be serious for a moment - just because the phrase is used in that trade doesn't mean it originated there.)

February 2008:

A man from Scotland told me they coined the phrase " the whole nine yards " because that is the amount of fabric needed to fashion a kilt. How long have kilts been worn?

(This one has to be my favourite. "A man from Scotland" told you. Did he mention anything about Loch Ness?)

February 2008:

I was under the understanding that Whole Nine yards was more relevant from Indian Saree context where the women dressing was saree was pretty elaborate and detailed.

("Under the understanding" - get out quick, there's a Scotsman in a concrete kilt coming.)

February 2008:

As to the derivation of the term "the whole nine yards": I was told that it related to the length of the belts for 50 mm machine guns as manufactured during WW II; "give it the whole nine yards" meant to making sure the belts were made (and loaded) efficiently.

(You were told were you? - this is getting tedious.)

February 2008:

The phrase "whole nine yards" originated during the renaissance period in England. Wealthy gentlemen would order a new overcoat from the local tailor. No matter what size the coat was, the customer would be charged for the full piece of cloth that it was cut from, usually about 9 yards worth. It became popular then to ask the tailor to make a new coat, and include the "whole nine yards" of cloth. I discovered this during research in a historiography class in grad school. I will dig up my research and send you legitimate references asap.

(Asap? Good job I didn't hold my breath.)

February 2008:

I thought "the whole nine yards" referred to the length of the machine gun's ammo belt that was 27 feet long. Thus, to give 'em the whole nine yards was to shoot all your bullets.

(February 2008 was a vintage month. Nice effort this - short and to the point.)

March 2008:

If The Whole Nine Yards comes from a training exercise to run 27 feet (nine yards) in 3 seconds, that seems awfully slow. Even I can do that.

(Good point - although you are the first person to suggest that origin. Suggestion and refutation in just a few words - impressive.)

March 2008:

The whole nine yards - concrete typically is delivered in an eight yard truck, the truck can usually carry a little more. If you ask for "the whole nine yards" they will sometimes fill the truck

(Concrete again? Surely you concreters have some evidence, or did it get buried?)

March 2008:

This is a comment and the information comes from a Smithsonian, December 2007 article "Ike at D-Day", page 55. " the belts of .50-caliber ammunition for the heavy machine guns of the American bombers were 27 feet long (whence the expression "the whole nine yards"). D-Day was on June 6, 1944 so this is pre '50's and there is no clue as to when it came into popular usage in the article only the quote above.

(The Smithsonian - shame.Tour guides - the source of even more folk etymology than Scotsmen.)

April 2008:

In response to your entry on "the whole nine yards", I believe this is refering to the yardage it took to make a "GREAT KILT". I am a student of the 18th century. It was a common phrase to use because to make a great kilt it would take approximately 9 ells(yards) which is the amount of fabric on a bolt of wool. This information can be found if you look up the book Great Kilt History, it dates back to 1594

(Back to Scotland - where else? That Great Kilt History sounds like an interesting book - pity it doesn't exist.)

May 2008:

I have always understood the phrase "The whole nine yards" to be the full ammunition belt of a Maxim machine Gun and it was coined during the Great War.

(Must try harder.)

March 2008:

A practicing wiccan I know was telling me the other day that an old gaelic tradition held that a burrial shroud should be nine yards of material (give or take) and so giving it "the whole nine yards" came out of the "wicca revival" as she put it, to mean giving it everything you had (with the connotation of death if need be).

(This has to be a contender for top spot. "A practicing wiccan I know" has to be the best possible opening line. That, combined with a genuinely nonsensical suggested source makes this one a classic of its kind.)

June 2008:

The whole nine yards derieved from medeival days it meant if a prissonar got whipped with a cat o nine tails .
each tail was three feet long and there were nine tails to this device.

(Really?)

July 2008:

i don't have any written proof but my grandfather was i fighter pilot during the second world war, he told me "The Whole Nine Yards" was used in his flight crew back in 1940 when the English would fire their belts of ammo at the German fighter planes. The link of ammo was nine yards, and they would fire all at the target. Coining the phrase "he got the whole nine yards"

(Grandfather hearsay or not, UK machine gun belts weren't nine yards long.)

September 2008:

the whole nine yards phrase. The origin is from Sailing days the Clipper ships letting our all the Sail.

(Doh. Now you explain it, it all becomes clear.)

September 2008:

The phrase "the whole nine yards" I always thought was derived from a time when a condemned prisoner was housed in confinement, just before execution , a distance of nine yards from the gallows or other implement of execution. I presumed this meant at the end of the whole nine yards."was the be all end all"
So when something is complete or the ultimate, those last nine yards a prisoner walked , was as far as he could , no more was possible . Do any agree ?

(No.)

November 2008:

I have come across the phrase "The whole nine yards" while reading Michael Korda's "IKE". I have used the phase for years and was questioned about it when I used it in a creative writing assignment in college.
Mr. Korda's reference is on page 51 and deals with the length of .50 caliber ammunition belts carried on American heavy bombers (B-17 and B-24). I believe it is a factor of target location (Berlin, for example), which required a full load of fuel, full load of .50 ammunition with the remaining capacity given to bomb load. The maintenance personnel would link together the .50 belts feeding the turrents and waist gunners weapons and this apparently worked out to 27 feet of ammunition belts - the whole nine yards. Maximum effort.

(Creative writing - that says it all.)

November 2008:

I cannot cite a source, though I think one of the Patrick O'Brien novels may have explained it. But here is how I understand it;

British ships of the line typically had three masts -- the upright timbers. Each mast had three yards, which are horizontal timbers from which sails are hung, or furled up when not in use. In appropriate weather, all the sails on all the masts would be unfurled, the ship used and driven to her maximum capacity and speed, -- going all out, because they used the "whole nine yards."

That's my story, and I'm sticking with it until I hear a better one.

(Story it is. You do know that novels are made up, don't you?)

November 2008:

I once read that this phrase has a Shakespearean origin. It meant the playgoers who could afford the expensive 9 pence seats and concomitant attire and thus "dressed to the nines."

Also, "the whole 9 yards" refers to the length of the Queen's (or princess's, e.g., Diana's) bridal train.

(This one completes my top three favourites. Not content with providing an incorrect origin of a phrase, this correspondent supplies two.)

November 2008:

My knowledge of "Dressed to the Nines" and All Nine Yards, boils down to the fact the Bolts of Fabric came in nine yards.   If one had the money, they would have their dresses made of all nine yards.  In the seventeenth Century, they were only allowed to use all nine yards if they were Royalty.   Their status in Society allowed them certain yards of fabric.   And, thus, "Dressed to the Nines" was appropriate.  The rich could buy it all  and have flowing gowns.  They were certainly "dressed to the NInes"

Can you refute this?  It seems to me as if all of your confusing issues of the number "9" have nothing to do with this.  I don't think you have any idea what you're talking about.

(Can I refute it? No, I can't. There are pixies dancing the can-can in my garden. Can you refute that?)

December 2008:

"Give 'em the whole nine yards". I live in Canada and watch the History Channel religiously. They have fascinating series about so many interesting topics, including World War I. This phrase was used by British machine gunners, who were issued the British made "Leander" (unsure of spelling) machine gun. The belt for that gun was 9 yards long. Hence, the phrase.

If required, I could probably narrow down the search for the program or series name that made this statement but, the incredible detail and accuracy throughout the program leads me to believe that they have this phrase properly identified.

("If required" - yes, you are required, if you want anyone to accept what you are saying as correct. By the way, how do you watch television religiously? Have you got special robes?)

January 2009:

I am surprised that you do not include the following in your discussion of "the whole nine yards." Though I do not know the origin of it - except that I heard it somewhere - it seems to make good sense and is related to the other perfectly sensible tailoring source that is,, that it took nine yards of cloth to make a good suit and, hence, one would be "dressed to the nines" if one were well-dressed. The origin of it, at least in my mind, is the medieval practice of making a monk's habit from nine yards of cloth. Going "the whole nine yards" would indicate total commitment on the part of the postulant or novice who, would receive the habit upon making his vows. The fact that it does not appear prior to 1964 in your survey does not convince me that the origin of the phrase is not older or, that some version of it was not in common usage at a time that predated the printing press. It seems to me that there must be common phrases that show up eventually in literature, especi!
ally ancient literature, that may have been in use for long periods of time before their epiphany.

(Another "heard it somewhere". Could we find out where that is a have it cordoned off?)

January 2009:

Just to add to the several options listed, there is the possibility that the term came from farmers who would have hay delivered for their livestock and/or horses, and the hay was delivered in pallets of nine cubic yards. Sometimes the farmers would request a few yards...sometimes the whole nine. Who knows?

(Sure, why not? Make up any old rubbish and add it to the pile.)

February 2009:

The way I heard it the phrase relates to an able bodied seaman who could handle all of the yards on a fully rigged sqaure rigger. There wer up to nine different yard arms on such a fully rigged vessel. Therefore, an able bodied seaman could "go the full nine yards"

(I've nothing to add to that.)

February 2009:

Concerning the phrase "the whole nine yards" -- I was in the US Air Force back in the early 1960's stationed not far from Braintree, Essex, UK. I worked on the weapons systems of fighter jets. One of my sergeants who was in the Army Air Corps during WWII used the phrase frequently and when I asked him what it meant, he said some of the ammunition belts of the WWII fighter planes were 27 feet long. When a pilot returned with all of his ammo expended he would say, "I gave them the whole nine yards."

I have no idea if this was the origin of the phrase, but it appears to have been used in the military in the 1940's.

(One more to the list. It is perhaps significant that there are so many, albeit hearsay, reports of this possible source.)

March 2009:

This is not a question but more of a comment on an incorrect staement made of the 'whole nine yards', which comes from a staff sergeant telling a corporal he can have the 'whole nine yards' when on a .50 cal gun refferring to the nine yards of amunition; the full length of amunition

(Why is it that people who make this stuff up are unable to spell? There's a research project in that for someone.)

March 2009:

on the 'whole nine yards', which comes from a staff sergeant telling a corporal he can have the 'whole nine yards' when on a .50 cal gun refferring to the nine yards of ammunition; the full length of ammunition

(Okay, thanks for sharing.)

March 2009:

"the whole nine yards" originally came from a john wayne movie "Flying Tigers" 1943 i believe.... the Curtis Wright fighter that the AVG used, had 9 yards of 50 cal machine gunbelts

(That should be pretty easy to check - just watch the movie. It's a pity he didn't think of that.)

April 2009:

origin of whole 9 yards. you need 10 yards for a first down in american football. therefore nine yards is close but falls short.

(Someone else said that, so it must be true.)

April 2009:

Hi folks, love the site. But I was amazed that no-one has picked up on what I consider the true meaning of the phrase "the whole nine yards." It dates back way farther than you mention, and I and many fellow sailors hold that it's not just a possible origin of the phrase, but catagorically THE origin of the phrase. (Though I'm sure everyone says that!) The problem is that you're all looking at the word Yard and thinking distance or measurement.
This however dates back instead to tall ships and the large horizontal beams that hung from the masts to support the sails. Each of these horizontal beams is called a yard -as in the other popular phrase amongst sailors where you're not allowed a drink "till the sun's over the yard-arm." that is, a little later in the day.
When tall ships were battling and engaging cannon fire, some had cannons mounted in the hull at the forward end, or bow. But this was less common as the boat was more likely to take on water when you were out on the high seas.
So the majority of canons were positioned within the hull on the sides of the vessels -known by some as the broadsides.
So though you may have approached your enemy from ahead or from behind, to fully engage in combat you had to go broadside-on, or side to side.

As two ships approached one another, they would jockey for position, and keep their bailing out options open. On a fully rigged tall ship this would have meant delicately balancing the power of the sails across possibly three masts, each with three square sails -and each being held up on a yard arm. This is where the nine yards cames from -nine yard arms.
As you approached your enemy, you could gradually turn each sail the wrong way (called "backing the sail") by pivoting the relevant yard to the wrong side of the boat using the braces and sheets (control lines or ropes.) This makes the boat want to turn broadside-on, but the boat would still make slow headway until the point where you fully committed by throwing the last brace, backing this last sail and turning to face your foe all canons blazing.

There's my tuppence worth. I'm off to root in some admiralty archives to get some relevant facts to support this widely known theory.
Thanks for the great site, JW

(...and thank you for that entertaining effort.)

April 2009:

In reference to the phrase "The whole nine yards" .. I can't offer anything to add to what you have discovered, but for some reason I think it more probable that the origin was football.. With a first down being 10 yards you might think that that phrase would make more sense, however I beleive a situation of a hard fought 1 yard, followed by an amazing 9 yard gain needed to make the first down could easily be a more common situation, and in games, a memorable situation leading to a phrase like that which would probably be repeated several times after a game.. just a thought.

(Yes, it's a thought.)

April 2009:

I believe this is the origin of 'the whole nine yards.' I used to work for an advertising agency that believe it or not started out as a coal company. Back when homes were heated by coal burning boilers, coal trucks would deliver to each home. These trucks were divided into three compartments of three cubic yards each. Homeowners could order three yards of coal, six yards, or the "whole nine yards." This information came directly from a family owned business where the phrase had been commonly used for a hundred years.

(Coal. It's always good to get a new one.)

May 2009:

The whole nine yards came from the machine gunner in a rifle platoon. Every nine yards is a tracer round and thats the direction everyone is supposed to shoot.

(I'm running out of sarcasm.)

June 2009:

Find this ... 'the whole Nine years' perhaps you can look into its origin india. In traditional India, the is the garment of choice for the women. and in South India, traditional brahmin women would wear heavy, gold lined, saris that were Nine yards long and it took a while for that to be draped Saree around a body. The privileged women wore the 9 yard saris while the regular sais are 6 yeards long. this ritual and perfection was perhaps where the Brits got it from during the time of their colonization of the land and then transported it much lie the Mulligatawny soup and the Catamaran and the Dungarees...

'Years?' 'Yeards?' - when you are making stuff up it hardly matters that you get the words wrong.

June 2009:

I believe that the term "the whole nine yards"is a baseball term, meaning when a team is out of contention everyone on the forty man roster gets to play, it has always been said that the team is playing out the string, meaning letting it all go.

You believe it? Why is that again?

June 2009:

February/March 1991 edition of Threads Magazine, plus my personal experience as an amateur kiltmaker and involvement with Scottish highland games. "Whole nine yards" refers to the amount of fabric in a bolt. It was first referred to the amount of material required to make a large man's kilt or a man's regimental kilt. A regimental kilt is one where the pleats are lined up so that each pleat displays the prominent stripe. This is opposed to the regular pleated kilt, where the tartan pattern is matched so that the pattern is uninterrupted through the pleats, like matching a wallpaper pattern. A running-pleat formal kilt for a large man requires 8 yards of fabric whereas a regimental kilt will require deeper pleats, and thus 9 yards of fabric.

It was in Threads? Case proven.

July 2009:

During the war, the doughboys would fly their planes on a "strafing run". This involved flying directly towards enemy ground targets and using their machine gun to eliminate the target. The bullets were attached to belts which were fed into the gun. The belts were nine yards long. Hence, " I gave them the whole nine yards." Meant the pilot had used a whole belt of ammo on his target.

Interestingly matter of fact assertions. They would almost have the air of being true - if they weren't made up.

August 2009:

"The Whole Nine Yards" comes from the making of ancient Scottish kilts. The proper amount of material used to make a "great kilt", which predates the modern dress kilts of today, is made from nine yards of material. Modern kilts use less material, ranging from five to seven yards. The traditional great kilt is made only by using "The Whole Nine Yards".

One more evidence-free Hibernian opinion.

August 2009:

I remember using this term in 1967 in Air Force Surviver Training. Not sure what the standard Airborne parachute line length line was then, but we would cut it up and make rope (3 twisted lines) for use going off cliffs. So the term was to make sure you used the whole nine yards. Which my understanding then was that if you parachute jumped you hoped the whole nine yards open, then you would go down with "the whole nine yards'.

Since this was standard in the '60s find no reference to parachute lines on any of the uses of this term, why?

Why indeed. Perhaps because no one else believes that story. It is nice to get a new theory every now and again though.

October 2009:

Regarding the origin of "the whole nine yards"; it comes from the future. In the year 2143 a genetically engineered plant made from a combination of bamboo and corn was to make a house that, in an emergency, you could eat. The first family to own one of these houses was a family whose last name was actually "Yod", and yes, there were nine of them. Icky Yod, Solmo Yod, Ricky Yod, Festo Yod, Hilamina Yod, Gestor Yod, Smick Yod, old man Yod who never had a first name or just forgot it, and finally his wife, Manalma Yod. At the celebration of this family first moving in, people were skeptical, thinking that in an emergency, the family would not survive the promised six weeks simply by eating the house. Those who knew reassured those who didn't that indeed the house would feed "all nine Yods" for the promised month and a half. "What about water?" was asked, but the man who asked it was quickly taken away. For several years the phrase "all nin!
e Yods" spread throughout neighboring towns, as way of promising that this new edible house idea would live up to the promise. The builders of these new homes soon got irritated with questions about the houses they were building and started slurring the answer, "All Nine Yods" slowly morphed to "whole nine Yods" when a reporter misheard one of the builders slurring the phrase, and not knowing who or what a Yod was, spelled it "yards" because he knew that word. So it was published that these new homes promised "the whole nine yards promise", and slowly the phrase "the whole nine yards promise" spread as a builder's promise, until the 'promise' was dropped as being redundant. Thus, full or complete endeavors that were promised became 'whole nine yards" promises, whether it be a builder or not. I have no evidence for this but if you live long enough, you'll be able to find it when it happens.

If you are going to make something up, make it funny. Well done, the best for months. Sadly, joke as it is, this is no less likely than many of the others.