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Where Does This Term Come From?


January 2013

Here’s a neat little trivia question:  Where does the term “the whole nine yards” come from?

Tip – it’s not football…  And please don’t bother trying to cheat with Google.  It won’t help because most of the sites that pop up claim it’s a mystery.  It’s not.  There is an answer.

We have a winner…  Below the fold

Andy from Determined to Tri correctly answered:  “Something to do with machine gun rounds back in WWII, right”

In more technical terms, the Browning M-2 machine gun came with an ammunition belt (a string of connected rounds) that was 27′ long per box.  “Give ’em the whole nine yards” meant to fire an entire belt down range.

The Browning M-2 Machine Gun - AKA "Ma Deuce".

The Browning M-2 Machine Gun – AKA “Ma Deuce”.

Nicely done Andy.


  1. andygis33 says:

    Something to do with machine gun rounds back in WWII, right?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Exactly – The Browning M-2 Machine gun came with a 27′ long .50 caliber “chain”. Give ’em the whole nine yards meant throw a whole box down range. Two points for you.

  2. elisariva says:

    That is still a possible answer. The challenge with it is there is no common record of the phrase being used before 1960. If a WWII event influenced it, it is unlikely it took 20 years to surface. I have been researching….

    • bgddyjim says:

      Right, there’s no written record of it before ’60, but as a military term, it would certainly take quite a while to gain traction in the outside world. Don’t spend too much time on it – I’ve spent exactly no time at all beyond the initial check.

  3. Interesting that I was just having this discussion with my brother in law last night. He mentioned the weapons reference above, but there are two more: A). 9 yards (9 cubic yards) is the capacity of a cement truck, and B). 9 yards of material is what it takes to fabricate a complete men’s suit (jacket, vest, and slacks). I think the military reference is more likely to have made it into the common vernacular.

    • bgddyjim says:

      The trick with the cement trucks is that they vary – I’ve read, in the history of dump trucks, that the average is actually ten yards.

      In the end, I’m going with the Ma Deuce… It sounds much, much more awesome.

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