Those devoted to projects like the Oxford English Dictionary are obsessed with antedating—searching out and pinning down printed uses of words and terms that appeared earlier than the earliest known uses. Now one of the most elusive turns of phrase, "the whole nine yards," just leapt back by three years to a 1964 article in the Tucson Citizen about the peculiar lingo of the Gemini space program:
"'Give 'em the whole nine yards' means an item-by-item report on any project."Link. This lends credence to the military-origin theory, but it doesn't definitively explain what the nine yards refer to literally. We may never learn in our lifetimes how the phrase originated . . . or will we?
Indexed by tags language, NASA, whole nine yards.
Image credits: "Polaroid Transfer Yardsticks," Ms. Flower Legs, courtesy Flickr, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.