Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Whole Nine Yards

An interesting piece in today's NY Times on the origin of the term, "the whole nine yards." It turns out that this has fascinated people interested in word origins for a number of years. A number of explanations have been offered, including the length of ammunition belts in WW II aircraft or the amount of cubic yards produced by a cement mixer. Recently, discoveries of the term "the whole six yards" in the early 1900s in some Kenucky papers means the other explanations are false.  A definitive answer has not been offered yet, but many options have been eliminated.

On another note, the article referred to the origin of the Windy City for Chicago. I had thought it originally came from New York politicians complaining about Chicago's lobbying for the 1892 World's Fair, and the fact that Chicago is windy helped make the term stick. That, too, is wrong. Newspaper accounts from the 1860s used the term because of Chicago's weather.  For economists, the big mistake on origins was economics as the dismal science. Most thought that Thomas Carlyle was referring to Malthus, whose vision was rather dismal. But actually Carlyle was referring to John Stuart Mill and his opposition to slavery in the British colonies.

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