Trivia Answer - the whole nine yards



The question was: How did the term "the whole nine yards" originate?

The answer is: Well....there is no answer really! Congrats to Priscilla who hit the nail on the head. There are so many stories about how this phrase originated, it really is impossible to know the truth. However, I'd also like to extend Congratulations to Kellie, Seawall, Lex Luthor, and mitch who all came up with viable suggestions for the origination of the phrase! Sorry, Divetex, I don't count your answer--but I did enjoy reading it! :D

To follow are some of the possible originations I found when I was researching this. Hope you all had fun with this impossible to answer question!! By the way, I felt this question was appropriate for this board because of the last possiblility in this list is nautical in nature.



This phrase has been attributed to W.W.II fighter planes. Nine yards was the exact length of a belt of 50-caliber ammunition for the Corsair fighter. If a target was shot at with the entire band, it was said to have been given "the whole nine yards".


Alternatively, a tailor making a high quality suit uses more fabric. The best suits are made from nine yards of fabric.
This may seem like a lot but a proper suit does indeed take nine yards of fabric. This is because a good suit has all the fabric cut in the same direction with the warp, or long strands of thread, parallel with the vertical line of the suit. This causes a great amount of waste in suit making, but if you want to go "the whole nine yards", you must pay for such waste.

Perhaps this is related to the phrase, "dressed to the nines".


The phrase certainly applies to the preparation of a full set of men's clothing. To fully understand this, you need to know what constituted a "full set of clothing" for a man in the 17th and 18th Centuries where the phrase can first be traced.

The items of clothing for a man were a Westkit (waistcoat), Breeches (pants) and a Great Coat. The material requirements to tailor these garments (even with a minimal amount of waste) is nine yards of material (45" width in the 1800s). A Westkit requires 1.5 yards, Breeches requires 2.0 yards and the Coat requires 5.5 yards for a total of 9.0 yards. These amounts can be
confirmed with many museums, historians or period re-enactors.

The reason that the Coats required so much material was that they went from shoulder down to the back of the knee in length, and then the lower portion of the coat was full and pleated, almost like a dress. The pattern for the coat below the waist is almost a full circle.


"The whole nine yards" refers to the amount of fabric in a proper Scottish kilt. Nine yards of fabric seemed positively way too much for a skirt - I mean a kilt. I was skeptical so I did a quick calculation on the kilt idea.

Measuring myself around the buttocks and hips, I find that I am 42 inches in circumference. 9 yards is 324 inches. Hence 9 yards of fabric could wrap around me 7.7 times! Even allowing for pleats and a bit of breathing room, this seems far too much.
However the kilt notion may have merit. Today, cloth is sold linearly such that a yard is three feet long, regardless of the width. But these measurements are likely to be the area of cloth - nine square yards.

The kilt, much like the suit, must have the fabric oriented in the proper direction. The plaid or Tartan as it's called has to be matched perfectly, so it doesn't look crooked. This alone takes a huge amount of cloth. The nine yards is the area of the fabric the tailor starts with, much of which ends up as scrap.

Additionally, a kilt does not simply wrap around the waist. It also includes fabric that is worn up and over the shoulder.

Old style kilts were used as blankets, toweling, or whatever else came to mind. There is a tale about one man using his to escape from a window of his lady-friend's bedchamber when her husband came home early. Needless to say he had to streak across to his horse and home.

Unfortunately, this turned out rather like those "Dumb Crook" cases you hear about now. Because each kilt was a specific Tartan, the husband had no trouble at all identifying the culprit.


Alternatively, old style concrete mixers, or coal bins, held nine yards.


Many old sailing ships had three masts, the fore, main, and mizzen. Each mast held three square sails. The horizontal stays that support the square sails are called yards. Hence the ships had nine yards.

Incidentally, a yardarm is one side of the yard.

Depending on the sailing conditions, more or less sails would be raised. In the best conditions peak speed could be achieved by raising all nine main sails, the whole nine yards.


I have a whole house full of prizes I have won on cruise ships for entering trivia contests! This is fun!