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Origin of the whole nine yards


Where does the expression the whole nine yards come from?


We're stumped. There appears to be no clear or simple answer to your question.

None of the dozen or so dictionaries we checked contain a straightforward answer on the origin of the whole nine yards. One online source, World Wide Words, calls this phrase "one of the great unsolved mysteries of modern etymology." The only thing that authorities seem to know for certain is that it dates from the 1960s and is American in origin.

The Internet yields many theories on the origins of this phrase. Here is a list of what the whole nine yards could refer to:

  • falling just short of a down in American football
  • the number 9 as a mystical symbol
  • the load capacity of a cement mixer
  • the load capacity of a New England coal truck
  • the number of spars (called yards) in use on a ship under full sail
  • the length of a hangman's noose
  • the length of cloth used in a custom suit
  • the length of cloth on a bolt of fabric
  • the length of cloth in a burial shroud
  • the length of cloth in a Scotsman's kilt
  • the length of a machine-gun ammunition belt

Most of these theories are very doubtful, so your guess is as good as ours!