Friday, August 12, 2016

Sepia Saturday 342 August 2016: Love and Marriage. The Whole Nine-Yards. Part 2

The Sepia Saturday format has been changed on a trial basis to the use of one photo a month. We're invited to submit as many posts as we wish during that month. I'm already finding it an improvement because I usually end up with three or four ideas for each photo there's a place to use them. Last week I wrote about the wedding section of the NY Times.

While looking for sepia photos of wedding dresses, I went all over the web. As I looked at the elaborate creations I said to myself, "Wow, they used the whole nine-yards!" Seemed like a sepia-type expression to me. Was I surprised when I looked up the etymology of the term. As it turns out, the first record of this expression being used was in 1907 in southern Indiana. Wiki states that it's a variation on "the whole ball of wax", first record of which appeared in the 1880's. The guests at Cyril and Madge's wedding might have used "The whole nine-yards", but it wouldn't have been used when these nineteenth century brides (below) appeared in all their glory. Somehow I can't imagine anyone looking at these tremendous dresses and commenting on the "whole ball of wax".

Over the years I've heard many theories about the "nine-yards" origin including: The full contents of a cement mixer; the length of an ammunition belt; a full sail—three masts each with three yards, but the one I always liked best was, a full bolt of fabric. 

 Here's what Wiki has to say:

The whole nine yards or full nine yards is a colloquial American phrase meaning "everything, the whole lot" or, when used as an adjective, "all the way", as in, "The Army came out and gave us the whole nine yards on how they use space systems."[1] Its origin is unknown and has been described as "the most prominent etymological riddle of our time".[2]
The earliest known example of this phrase is from 1907 in southern Indiana. It is related to the expression "the whole six yards", used around the same time in Kentucky and South Carolina. Both phrases are variations on the whole ball of wax, first recorded in the 1880s.[3] They are part of a family of expressions in which an odd-sounding item, such asenchiladashooting matchshebang or hog, is substituted for "ball of wax".[3] The choice of the number nine may be related to the expression "to the nines" (to perfection).[nb 1]
The phrase was introduced to a national audience by Elaine Shepard in the Vietnam War novel The Doom Pussy(1967).[4] Use of the phrase became widespread in the 1980s and 1990s. Much of the interest in the phrase's etymology can be attributed to New York Times language columnist William Safire, who wrote extensively on this question. Baroness Christine von Linden circa 1857.No doubt here about the extravagance of fabric. French wedding dress, 1877. Whenever there's a long filmy train, there's a lot of fabric. 

When you consider all the gathers and ruching you can see how yards of fabric have been incorporated.
From the State Library of New South Wales, Mrs. Hare. 1874-1908. Freeman Studio, Sydney. Tintype of bride in the 1860's. All those ruffles gobble up fabric. There's easily nine yards in this little number.

As I googled the whole nine yards I ran across an interesting website full of wedding lore, such as—why the bride is always on the groom's left. The answer: Because he has to keep his sword arm free to ward off would-be thieves of the bride. Actually it wasn't always the bride the thieves were after, but rather, the dowry. Perhaps they kidnapped the bride in order to get the dowry as ransom? Or the bride-snatchers could have been those pesky ogres that show up in legends and fairy tales without any monetary motivation, just plain ogre-meaness. Imagine that a bride doesn't have enough to worry about without adding possible kidnap to her worry-list.

Many of the other customs had to do with protecting the bride: The groomsmen originally acted as body guards for the whole wedding party. The bridesmaids were dressed, sort of like brides, to confuse the bad guys—presumably the bad guys had poor eyesight and poor judgement if they actually confused the bridesmaids with the bride. Maybe in days of old the bride's attendants dressed exactly like the bride? 

Danger was everywhere in the good old days—even the guests were a potential threat. The tradition of the bride throwing her bouquet originated because otherwise the guests would tear off pieces of her dress for good luck. If the bride avoided kidnapping or ogrenapping, she could still have the-very-dress ripped off her back! No wonder we speak of the blushing bride—the blush was probably more accurately a flush of terror. If she survived the ceremony with all it's attendant dangers, then she faced the wedding night, often with somebody she'd never set eyes on before the wedding day.  

The lore goes on and on here. But how much of this is speculation?—it could be just a lot of malarkey. Malarkey???? I wonder where that word came from?

Get out of here to Sepia Saturday while you can—before you get attacked by a word-worm like I've been. Help..........


  1. The phrase "whole in ne yards" was new to me, and the photographs you featured were stunning.

  2. When I was trying to find more on the origin of the nine yards expression, I ran into 'dressed up to the nines' meaning 'dressed smartly'. Both 'nine expressions' were new to me demonstrating the educational aspects of SS. But apart from that I think you can start a wedding fashion museum.

  3. It could be strictly American. We also say the whole enchilada; the whole kit-and-kadoodle and other "wholes" to mean the wholeness of a thing...sort of from A-to-Z.

  4. I like the idea of a bolt of fabric being the origin of the "whole nine yards" phrase. The amount of material that went into the gowns you've featured certainly cost a bundle too! And the length of the bride's train was another measure of status.

  5. I've heard of that expression but not in relation to wedding dresses. The amount of fabric those dresses must have used is incredible, not to mention how the brides managed to walk with those trains. I think Princess Diana's dress had a very long train. stretching down the aisle of St Paul's Cathedral.

  6. Wonderful selection of bridal fashion. I can remember even in the fifties there was a lot of fabric used in bridal gowns. In fact even in street clothes the dresses had at least 4 widths of fabric - which was nearly 5 yards - and as many stiff petticoats underneath as possible.

  7. As I looked at these dresses and thought of 9 yards, I thought about how heavy those dresses must have been. Maybe it would have been a relief to have some of the fabric removed by souvenier seeking guests.