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ennead (EN-ee-ad) noun

A group of nine.

[From Greek enneas, ennead-, from ennea (nine).]

Few words in our lexicon, such as noon and novena, are nine-based, but we do have some curious nine-based expressions. The origin of "the whole nine yards" (everything, the works) is an etymological conundrum. This phrase, which dates at least to the 1950s, has been attributed to a full cement mixer load of nine cubic yards (but few are this large), the amount of material for a three-piece suit (but nine yards is too much), the sail yardage on a three-masted ship (but nine yards is not enough), a reference to the mystical number nine, and an expression from World War II. This last theory is based on the nine-yard long ammunition belt fed into machine guns in the Supermarine Spitfire, a British plane that went into service in 1938 and was flown by the Allies, including Americans and Canadians, in that war. When the pilot used up all his ammunition, he had "shot the whole nine yards". "Dressed to the nines" and "on cloud nine" are likewise of uncertain origin, but theories abound for each.

"Finally, an ennead of gorillas--four bachelors on one side of a waterfall, a family of five safely on the other--scuff their knuckles as they proudly prowl." Richard Corliss; Beauty and the Beasts Stocked With Real Creatures And Fantastic Images; Time (New York); Apr 20, 1998.

"To the east of them I beheld another ennead. Nine branchy, curly manes upon them. Nine grey, floating mantles about them: nine pins of gold in their mantles. Nine rings of crystal round their arms." The Destruction Of Da Derga's Hostel; The Harvard Classics; P.F. Collier & Son, 1909-1914; (Translation: Whitley Stokes).

This week's theme: words based on numbers by guest wordsmith Stewart Edelstein.


If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the military, nothing is safe. -Lord Salisbury, British prime minister(1830-1903)

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