From six yards to nine: how idioms originate

In mid-January I asked my bookkeeper for an updated statement of my account. I wanted to look at my Dec/Jan financial affairs to prepare myself for 2020.

What he sent was a massive 13-page dossier going back to January 2019.

You might think of this as overly efficient. I see this as lazy and inefficient because I did not get what I asked for. I asked for something simple and instead I got the whole nine yards.

The Whole Nine Yards means, “everything you can possibly want or do in a particular situation,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary.


While some idioms have a certain or near certain historical origin this one is shrouded in mystery.

Some people say it dates back to when square-riggers had three masts, each with three yards supporting the sales, so the Whole Nine Yards meant the sales were fully set, says website

Another popular Theory is that it refers to the length of an ammunition belt on World War II fighters – when a pilot had used all his ammunition, he said he had shot off the whole nine yards.

Others claim it was the amount of cloth in the Queen’s bridal train or in the Shroud of Turin. Or it had to do with a fourth-down play in football. And there are those who say it might have come from a joke about a well-endowed Scotsman who gets his kilt caught in a door.

Too many theories

Cement trucks and cubic yards are also in the mix of popular theories. A search on the internet will be flooded with possible explanations as to the origin, none of them claiming to be the real story.

What I have learnt is that the idiom has grown – from six yards to nine.

Apparently other reports of the idiom in use found it was written as ‘the whole six yards”.  Also, it is mainly an American expression and only came to Britain in about 1850.

Nevertheless, my policy is brevity and especially when it comes to accounting. I’d rather get what I asked for and not the Whole Nine Yards just because my bookkeeper is too lazy to break it down.

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Iza Grek

Iza is an award-winning journalist. She has worked in advertising and communications for more than 20 years. A Word or 2 has been in operation since October 2014 and continues to thrive, serving customers writing and editing services across the board from blogs to speeches and e-books.