The deal

Posted by Gary Martin on November 11, 1999

In Reply to: The deal posted by ESC 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.