Sunday, December 12, 2021



Byter Charlie Z sent me an email that he thought may be of interest for Bytes. Thanks, Charlie.

I have seen it before and I am aware that it contains inaccuracies.

Nonetheless it is of interest, so here it is with commentary from me.



In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents and so did a glass of whiskey.

If a cowhand was low on cash he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a "shot" of whiskey.


Firstly, note that the Americans spell whisky as “whiskey”.

As regards the bullet price origin . . . not so.

Factually the price of a bullet was not equivalent to the price of a drink of whiskey. It actually equalled about 10 cartridges.

The use of the term “shot” in this context well predates the use in the Old West (1850-1900). It is recorded as used c 1700 in respect of “drinking shots”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning as a charge to be paid” (and, in a more specific usage, “a bill or one’s share of it, especially in a pub or bar”), goes back to 15th-century England.

Finally, the phrase “shot of whiskey” didn’t actually become common until the mid-20th century.


According to University of Melbourne language expert John Hajek, the alleged origin is not true:
“It’s just made up. A ‘shot’ is probably the result of when you’re pouring the drink. That sudden jerking movement is where it almost certainly came from. It was also a word for payment in a pub or bar, which goes back to the 15th century.”
AAP Fact Check



American fighter planes in WW2 had machine guns that were fed by a belt of cartridges.

The average plane held belts that were 27 feet (9 yards) long. If the pilot used up all his ammo he was said to have given it the whole nine yards.

Again, not so.

I have posted about this phrase previously (back in 2012, has it been that long?), so I will simply repost that item:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Whole Nine Yards and Kilts

It’s funny where looking up things takes you, in the present case, kilts. Not that I was looking up kilts but that I was led there.

Let me explain.

I recently heard the expression “the whole nine yards” again. Most will be aware that it means completely, the whole thing. Some years ago I had heard that the expression originated from the length of machine gun ammunition belts in World War 2 fighter planes. It was suggested that the length of the belts was nine yards (about 3 metres) and that to empty one’s ammunition belt at a target was to “go the whole nine yards”.

Looking into it further today, I found the following:
  • There are numerous explanations for how the phrase developed, some explanations referring to tests (walking 9 yards over coals), to clothing (using 9 yards of material in suits and kilts) and to construction (the amount of concrete carried by concrete trucks).
  • Nonetheless, experts are unable to explain how the phrase originated.
  • The earliest recorded use of the phrase is from 1962, suggesting that most of the explanations are incorrect.
  • It is likely that the phrase developed in the US in the 1960’s.

There is a more detailed examination at:

Which raises kilts., the authoritative site on urban myths, origins and electronic spam, suggests that “the best candidate for the origin of the expression might lie with a risque story of uncertain age” concerning a young Scot and his kilt. The item appears at:

Rather than quote the story, I will set out the lyrics of a song which tell the same tale. It is called Angus and his Kilt:

Well, Angus was a happy lad, for soon he would be wed.
He'd found a brisk and bonnie lass to take him to his bed.
And happier still his mother was that he had found a wife,
For, truth be told, she'd often feared she'd be stuck with him for life.

It's a fine thing, a bonnie thing, the grandest ever seen.
(Repeat last line of verse)

In honour of the grand affair that wedding day would be,
She set about to weave a kilt, the finest ever seen.
The night before the wedding, when the kilt was finally done,
She called young Angus over and she tried it on her son.

She wound the kilt about him and she wound, and wound, and wound,
And when she finished winding, it was still eight yards too long.
"Never fear, my bonnie boy. We'll simply cut it off,
And to your blushin' bride we'll give the extra length of cloth."

Now Angus was so pleased, y'know, his heart had swelled with pride.
He felt that he must rush right out and show it to his bride.
'Twas raining, so he grabbed a cloak to shield him on the moor,
But in his haste to be away his kilt slammed in the door.

Well, Angus was in such a rush to show off for his bride,
He never really noticed that he had left his kilt behind.
He knocked upon her door and cried, "Oh, let me in, I pray!
I've something that you've got to see before our wedding day."

Now, Bridget let him in, y'know, but said, "Ye cannot stay.
For I've got to have my beauty sleep before our wedding day."
"I'll only be a moment, love, but it's so grand, my dear,
Ye've really got to see what I'm a-hiding under here."

Now, when the cloak was thrown aside and Angus stood quite bare,
We must admit she was impressed and tried hard not to stare.
"Oh, love, I'll ne'er see finer, though far and far I roam!"
"Well, lass," he cried, "that's nothing! I've got eight more yards at home!"



This is synonymous with dying. During WW1 soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5,000.

This was about the price of an average farm so if you died you "bought the farm" for your survivors.

Comment: gives the origin as undetermined.

One explanation sometimes given for the origin is that the death benefits paid to the beneficiaries of soldiers who died in battle were often enough to pay off the mortgage on the family home or farm, rather than purchase one, hence the deceased was said to have “bought the farm.” Snopes rates this explanation as tenuous.

Another similar suggestion is that it came from wistful statements by aviators to the effect that after the war was over, they’d like to settle down and buy a farm. Many were killed in dogfights, with the result that “He bought the farm” became a way of saying “His war is now over.”

Another theory leaves out soldiers entirely — according to it, farmers whose buildings were hit by crashing fighter planes would sue the government for damages, and those damages were often enough to pay off all outstanding mortgages on the property. Since very few pilots would survive such a crash, the pilot was said to have “bought the farm” with his life.

According to snopes, “to buy it” (meaning “to die”) existed in the language long before “to buy the farm” did. It’s more reasonable to suppose the one is an extension of the other, with “the farm” substituting for (the often unstated) “it.”


From The Phrase Finder:
Bought the farm' is a 20th century expression and all the early references to it relate to the US military. The New York Times Magazine, March 1954, had a related phrase, in a glossary of jet pilots' slang:

"Bought a plot, had a fatal crash."

That clearly refers to a burial plot. The 'bought' in that case probably doesn't suggest any actual or potential purchase, but to an earlier use of 'bought it', that is, being killed. This dates back to at least the early 20th century. This example from 1943 isn't the earliest, but it does make the meaning explicit. It's from Cyril Ward-Jackson's It's a piece of cake; or, R.A.F. slang made easy:

"He's bought it, he is dead - that is, he has paid with his life."

Specific references to 'the farm' come a little later. There are reports of the phrase being in use in the US military from 1955 onward. Here's a citation from 1963, in Ed Miller's Exile to the Stars:

"The police dispatcher says a plane just bought the farm."

 . . . . 

(Another explanation) is the idea that, if a serviceman was killed in action, his family would receive a payout from the insurance that service personnel were issued with. This would be sufficient to pay off the family mortgage.

My two-penneth is on the last explanation but, given that we don't have the full evidence, that's just speculation.

The Phrase Finder


More to come.

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