"the whole nine yards"

by Mark Israel
     [This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]
This phrase, meaning "all of it, everything", dates from at least
the 1950s.  The origin is a matter for speculation.  9 yards is not
a particularly significant distance either in football or in the
garment business (a man's three-piece suit requires about 7 square
yards of cloth, and cloth is sold in bolts of 20 to 25 yards).  The
phrase may refer to the capacity of ready-mix concrete trucks,
alleged to average about 9 cubic yards.  Some people (e.g., James
Kilpatrick in Fine Print:  Reflections on the Writing Art) have
satisfied themselves that the concrete-trucks explanation is the
correct one; but I haven't seen the evidence.  And Matthew Jetmore
has unearthed some evidence to the contrary, a passage from the
August 1964 issue of Ready Mixed Concrete Magazine:  "The trend
toward larger truck mixer units is probably one of the strongest and
most persistent trends in the industry.  Whereas, just a few years
ago, the 4 1/2 cubic yard mixer was definitely the standard of the
industry, the average nationwide mixer size by 1962 had increased to
6.24 cubic yards, with still no end in sight to the demand for
increased payload."  The phrase is covered by Cecil Adams in More
of the Straight Dope, pp. 252-257.  A "canonical collection" of
explanations has been compiled by "Snopes" (snopes@netcom.com).
   Michael Nunamaker writes that a friend of his in the U.S. Air
Force suggested a World War II origin:  "According to him, the
length of the ammunition belt (feeding the machine guns) in the
Supermarine Spitfire was nine yards.  Therefore, when a pilot had
shot all his ammunition he would say he had 'shot the whole nine