The whole nine yards

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The phrase the whole nine yards means completely, the whole thing, everything, e.g. I was mugged. They took my wallet, my keys, my shoes, – the whole nine yards! The origin of the phrase has been described as, "the most prominent etymological riddle of our time."[1] The earliest known examples of usage date from the early 1960s.

Origin

A vast number of explanations for this phrase have been suggested.[2][3][4] The most common explanation is that World War II (1939-1945) gunners would supposedly "go the full nine yards" by firing an aircraft's entire ammunition belt at the enemy, the belt supposedly being nine yards long.[nb 1][4] But ammunition is normally measured in rounds,[nb 2] rarely in terms of physical belt length.[2] Moreover, this explanation does not appear in print until 40 years after the war.[5] No examples of the phrase from the World War II era have been found, despite extensive searches.[nb 3][2] There are many versions of this explanation with variations regarding type of plane, nationality of gunner, and geographic area. Another common explanation is that "nine yards" is a cubic measure and refers to the volume of a cement mixer.[6] But cement mixers were much smaller in the 1960s and none of the early references relate to cement or even to construction.[7] Other proposed sources include the volume of graves;[8] the length of bridal veils, kilts, burial shrouds, bolts of cloth,[9] or saris; American football; ritual disembowelment; shipyards; and the structure of certain sailing vessels.[10] Little documentary evidence has surfaced to support any of these explanations.[11]

U.S. Air Force Captain Richard A. Stratton later recalled that the phrase was the punchline of a dirty joke he had heard while attending flight school in Pensacola, Florida in 1955.[nb 4][12] In the first printed reference, a short story published in 1962, the phrase is attributed to "a brush salesman."[13] A letter published in an auto magazine later that year describes a certain new car as containing "all nine yards of goodies".[14] In 1964, several newspapers published a syndicated story which explained that, "Give 'em the whole nine yards" was NASA talk for an item-by-item report.[15] In this early usage, the emphasis is on length rather than completeness.[16]

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