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Whole Nine Yards Redux
Posted: 28 December 2012 12:17 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I updated the Big List entry

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Posted: 28 December 2012 04:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Great entry, Dave, and one that must have been a lot of fun to write. Seldom have so many elaborate origin fables been brought crashing down to earth so suddenly. My warmest congratulations to Bonnie and Fred for unriddling one of the great etymological mysteries!

Beginning with thee, O Phoebus, I will recount the famous deeds of men of old, who, at the behest of King Pelias, down through the mouth of Pontus and between the Cyanean rocks, sped well-benched Argo in quest of the golden fleece.

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Posted: 28 December 2012 10:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Ah, the nine of the whole nine yards, so tantalizingly familiar sounding, yet so cryptic in context.  And it turns out you stood for absolutely nothing.  Such an anticlimactic ending to such a compelling mystery.

But, baseless as it is, I maintain a faint hope that one more chapter in the story remains, and that it will turn out that there is an underlying metaphor behind this expression, albeit one that has nothing to do with nine-Ness and perhaps little to do with yardage.  It is interesting to me that in the earliest uses (found so far) the expression specifically denotes being told “the whole story” (about something).  Just a WAG, of course, but perhaps the “whole six yards” referred to being told the “long” version of the tale - all six yards of it.  Perhaps it even invoked a specific image of six yards worth of paper, or perhaps it was more abstract than that and it was just six yards worth of story-telling, in a purely notional sense.  Either way, the six, and the yards, are purely arbitrary, and were fitting simply in that they conveyed a suitably hyperbolic amount of tale-telling.  But even a notional metaphor would be more satisfying than learning that neither the six nor the yards meant anything at all.  Of course, what is satisfying is not necessarily what is true, and this is an absurdly slender reed indeed to try to rely upon as I have in advancing this WAG.  Which, as I said, is why I hope there is another chapter to this story - one more inch of the tale that remains untold but that can be uncovered one day. But there probably isn’t.

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Posted: 28 December 2012 10:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I enjoy your metaphor, aldi.  The words have a truly epic ring; Bonnie and Fred deserve no less. I believe your quotation is from Apollonius of Rhodes. Will you tell us whose translation it is? The one I have, by E.V.Rieu, is—however scholarly—a bit pedestrian by comparison.

I hope there is another chapter to this story - one more inch of the tale that remains untold but that can be uncovered one day. But there probably isn’t.

Svinyard118 : your sentimentality, however amiable, leads you to flog the proverbial dead horse. Accept the fact that the whole six, seven, nine, or umpteen yards have no more hidden meaning than “the whole shooting match” or “the whole ball of wax"*, and put your analytical mind to work on an unsolved question. 

* I recall a Rightpondian idiom (probably now obsolete) from the days of my youth: “the whole palaver”

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Posted: 28 December 2012 11:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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the shouting pyjama clad participants

That’s an interesting spelling for Michigan, or any part of the U.S.  I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a native American using it before.

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Posted: 29 December 2012 02:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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lionello, you’re right, of course, it’s Apollonius of Rhodes and the translation is by RC Seaton, published in 1912. (I prefer his translation to that of Rieu.) This one really was the Golden Fleece of etymology once Allen Walker Read had, to the satisfaction of most scholars, traced the origin of OK. An epic achievement by Bonnie and Fred and worthy of an epic comparison.

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Posted: 29 December 2012 06:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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thanks, aldi

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Posted: 29 December 2012 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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In the spirit of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, I would contribute to a wordorigins “Most Humorous Etymology for The Whole [n] Yards Contest” if there was such a thing.

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Posted: 29 December 2012 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Or we could continue the “whole x yards” theme to find the earliest.  My offering: “This bread is really nice, but the whole two yards would not tighten the waistcoat of an Englishman.” (London, Provincial and Colonial Press News, 1878 - page 13 (courtesy of Google Books snippet view). I think bread was actually sold by the yard back in the day, but still ... Someone might take me seriously enough to counteract the millions who won’t.

Now, someone find a reference to “the whole one yard” and we’re away.

[ Edited: 29 December 2012 11:30 AM by ElizaD ]
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Posted: 30 December 2012 08:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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While a great feat to tie this down, I am dissapointed.  Where else will I get the excuse to read about the Montagnard tribes of Vietnam, or learn about ammo belts and cement mixers.  I am sure that the truth about kilt-making would have been lost to all but a select few.

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Posted: 31 December 2012 03:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I should point out that Dave was very helpful in the early discussion about whether “the whole six yards” might have anything to do with “the whole nine yards.” (Believe it or not, we arrived at the affirmative conclusion only very tentatively; seems crazy now, but it wasn’t immediately obvious what we were looking at, though we had a hunch we were on to something.) It was Dave‘s preliminary, public, well-reasoned, yet cautious enthusiasm that caused us to proceed with optimism.  He also reminded ADS-L about the phenomenon of “phrase inflation,” which accounts for at least one way we may have ended up with “the whole nine yards.” It was his insight that gave the process a real push and I thank him for that.

By the way, and for what it’s worth, me, I’m with Svinyard118 in feeling that the original form probably has something to do with telling (orally or in writing) “the long version” of the “tale.” I don’t especially think it has anything to do with paper, but I can see “six yards” (or “[some number] yards") as a metaphor for a hyperbolic amount of tale-telling or, at least, a long stretch of words strung together.

Of course, I’ve been wrong before ...

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Posted: 31 December 2012 03:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Many thanks Bonnie! and Kudos to our Dave!

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Posted: 31 December 2012 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Welcome, Bonnie, and congratulations for some wonderful sleuthing!

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Posted: 01 January 2013 01:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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What fun to watch the unfolding of etymological history for such an iconic phrase! Well done, Bonnie, and thanks for the sheer joy of it!

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Posted: 03 January 2013 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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This is almost like being present at the unearthing of Tut’s tomb.  “Wonderful things!”

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Posted: 07 January 2013 05:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Lionello’s reference to the ‘whole palaver,’ tempts one to do a pseudo Ogden Nash and offer: 

Hola! 

Cliché-driven bards
Can now ditch the whole nine yards
And that whole palaver;
In its place they should rather
Talk about the whole enchilada!

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