Textile Idiom Series: “All wool and a yard wide”

April 17, 2023

From Tupper Lake Free Press and Tupper Lake Herald, November 15, 1956.

Much of our everyday language—in the form of idioms, clichés, or metaphors—makes reference to textiles. Using these phrases, we weave stories, spin tales, and thread narratives. But where do these expressions come from, and what do they mean? 

In a blog series posted on intermittent Mondays, we will be unpacking textile-related idioms. Stay tuned to learn their metaphorical and historical meanings.

“All wool and a yard wide” is a fairly archaic North American idiom describing a person who is sincere and genuine, with honorable intentions. While using this phrase in contemporary times may garner some confused reactions, it was commonplace in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States. The Cassell Dictionary of Slang refers to this idiom as having marketing origins, perhaps from advertising copy for textile trade promotions. 

A second version of this phrase, “all wool and no shoddy,” also exists. “Shoddy” is a cheap alternative to pure woolen yarn made from recycled rags and a small percentage of real wool, so a pure woolen textile—with “no shoddy”—was considered to be genuine.

From the “Chuckle Column,” The Williamson Sun and The Williamson Sentinel, November 10, 1927.