The Whole Nine Yards

Editor's note: Before you read the posting below, check this page on 'The origin of the whole nine yards'.

Posted by GrampsQ on February 17, 2002

In Reply to: The Whole Nine Yards posted by Harry DeBari on February 12, 2002

you have asked a question that has no clear answer. I'm
sorry -- but sometimes etymology confuses rather than enlightens.

I hope you won't be disappointed but, according to my research, even though
the machine gun idea is romantic, it has a much more prosaic history. It
goes back to the construction industry who bought concrete by the cubic
yard. A concrete truck held 9 yards and, if you bought the entire truck
load, you got the whole 9 yards.

There IS another theory. At one time U.S. prisons had a 9-yard "no man's
zone" around each and a nine yard high fence. If a prisoner escaped, he
made it through the Whole nine yards!

Take your pick!

Ron wrote: I'd just like to add to the confusion of the origin of
'Whole nine yards'. In most of India the everyday sari worn by women
is made of material six yards in length. However, for weddings and special
occasions, saris of nine yards are used. Hence, for these special occasions,
one goes "'the Whole nine yards." This could just be another example of the
myriad influences the British inherited by controlling India for two
Comment from Lance: And this, nine yards applies to just the shirt. The
more fabric in the shirt, the wealthier you were. It was against the
law to wear a shirt made of more material than your class was permitted.
Comment from Brian Morris: I have heard that the saying the whole 9
yards comes from WWII days when the aircraft guns had their bullets in
strings of 27 feet. When you went through all of your bullets, you went
through the whole 9 yards.
Comment from David Whyte: Apparently, in early England, an entire load
of coal for heating was carried in a container that was nine yards
long. Most people could not afford it, but if you could, you would take
'the Whole nine yards'. I have no idea of the validity of the story, but
it seems reasonable.
Comment from Colin: Last night I was having some beers with a few USAF
pilots. One insisted that the Whole nine yards comes from the B-52.
It's bomb-bay is 9 yards long and the phrase would then refer to dropping
all the bombs from the bay. Another guy insisted that the phrase comes from
WWI when the machine gunners would be issued nine yards of belted-ammunition
at a time.
Rosemary wrote: I have been sewing for 30 years, and cannot conceive of
the largest-size shirt in the fullest possible cut using up more
than half that amount! Unless perhaps the fabric is only a yard wide, or
even 25" wide, both of which were not unusual in my grandmother's day. (Hence
the expression "all wool and a yard wide" - not a cheap wool blend and
only 25" wide.) However, it is quite conceivable that an average-size,
moderately-tailored trousers, waistcoat, and vest would use up 9 yards.
Brad Bellows claims the 9 yards would also include an overcoat, but
I don't believe a full-grown man could get all 4 items out of 9 yards of
fabric unless the fabric were much wider than is sold today.
Lawrence says: I've heard that the whole 9 yards comes from the
contents of cement trucks - a full load being 9 cubic yards of cement.
There are various suggestions, none of them clearly backed up by
facts. The term seems to be of US origin, from the early seventies. A
sort of consensus has grown up that it refers to the capacity of a
ready-mixed concrete drum (nine cubic yards), but this seems so
unlikely that I hesitate to do more than report it!
The phrase: "the Whole nine yards" is a phrase borrowed from Scotland and
is a refererence to the scottish kilt, the kilt having mine yards
of material. This is where it comes from and I believe that it means
completeneteness, or totality.
--Jathan Pfeifle