As the Super Bowl approached, someone suggested I write about the expression “the whole nine yards.” Why nine, she asked, when the football field is marked in 10-yard increments?
As with many word matters I research, there isn’t clear consensus on any one theory. Various opinion-holders each claim resolutely that the origin of “the whole nine yards” pertains to rounds of ammunition, the volume of a cement mixer, the cubic footage of a grave, the length of a bridal train or nine shipyards used during World War II. The one I’m going with referred to the Long Jump field event. So there we are; it’s not about football at all.
This got me thinking, though, about the whole ball of wax. No clear consensus on that one either. As best I can tell, “the whole ball of wax” has something to do with the way in which inherited property was once identified. Or it derives from “bailiwick.” You choose.
How about the whole enchilada? The whole shooting match? The whole shebang? What is a shebang, anyway?
I recently heard someone say, “That’s a whole different ball of wax.” Nothing like a good mixed metaphor to take us back to the ball game.