Whole nine yards

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9 comments on this post.
  1. Nancy:

    Interesting – so maybe there is a bureaucratic link to the phrase, with paperwork to the nth degree? Nine yards of a list? Information nine yards deep? They want info on the project? Give it to them in spades. Give them the whole nine yards – that’ll teach them.

  2. marie campbell:

    I ‘ve heard that the whole nine yards refers to the cubic feet of earth removed in digging a grave!

  3. Phineas T Gage:

    As an old railroad construction worker I can tell you that we used that expression when ordering concrete: the “whole nine yards” meant you needed a full load and would not return a partial load.

  4. Kenneth Asahan:

    It is my understanding that the phrase “whole nine yards” came from the maximum load of bullets loaded in a fighter airplane during World War II. Since bullets were linked together to form a linked chain, the maximum load for a fighter airplane, measured in length would come out to nine yards. Hence, if that airplane gave anyone the “whole nine yards”, it would have given it’s enemy everything or have had expended all of his bullets.

  5. TB:

    Maybe someone just started saying it because they liked the way it sounded?

  6. Tom Sullivan:

    Perhaps: In the 1800s in cities when people had coal fired furnaces and coal bins, coal was delivered in a dump truck that held 9 cubic yards. The bed of the truck had two steel gates that ran from one side to the other and divided the bed into three equal parts. The gates were suspended from the top and locked at the bottom. If someone wanted 3 yards of coal then the gates were left locked and only the rear most section would be emptied. If you wanted the WHOLE NONE YARDS then the pins locking both gates would be pulled and they would swing up as the bed tipped and the coal would slide beneath them.

  7. Chip Taylor:

    The problem with the phrase referring to fighter airplane ammo belts, either WWII or later, is that each model of fighter has different armament with varying capacities. For example in WWII:
    British Spitfire: 300 rounds of .303 ammo per gun

    P51 Mustang: 50 cal machine guns. The two inboard guns had 400 rounds each. The four outboard guns had 270 rounds.

    P-38 Lightning: One 20mm Hispano A/N-M2 cannon with 150 rounds, and four .50 Browning M2 machineguns with 500 rounds each

    Spitfire Mk.XIVE: Two Hispano cannon in the wing, with 120 rounds each. Two Browning .50 guns, with 250 rounds each.

    So it is highly unlikely that few if any of them had a ammo belt measuring 9 yards.

    Incidentally, the first known print use was referring to baseball and came in 1907 from The Mitchell Commercial, a newspaper in the small town of Mitchell, Indiana, in their 2 May 1907 edition:

    “This afternoon at 2:30 will be called one of the baseball games that will be worth going a long way to see. The regular nine is going to play the business men as many innings as they can stand, but we can not promise the full nine yards.”

    That of course pre-dates WWII. It is not evidence that the phrase was in widespread use at that time, or even that the phrase as used here has anything to do with the origin. I think it is good enough just to mark this one as “origin unknown”

  8. bjones:

    I’m struck by the cited baseball quote. In this instance, it could possibly be that “yard” poetically represents an item with a measure of three (feet for yard, outs for inning) and “the whole nine yards” does signify a full game, the entire long event. And that has morphed over time into giving a lot of anything, depending on the situation.

  9. David Weiser:

    My understanding is that it refers specifically to the gunner ammo belts on the famous and widely admired B-17 Flying Fortress bombers which were folded into boxes and then loaded onto the aircraft. The crew usually spent many hours in the air and when confronted by the enemy had to conserve their rounds. Firstly to increase accuracy and not waste bullets and secondly to prevent the 50mm guns from overheating which easily did. Most movies show constant firing but this was not the case. The inference to give them all they got from their 9 yards of belt seems to ring true and is quite plausible given the wide popularity of that particular aircraft.

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