Calendar,The Whole Ball of Wax

(meaning and origin)

Origin of the Phrase?

The origin of the phrase, The whole ball of wax is not explained in any abridged or even in an unabridged dictionary that is available; except in the Encarta World English Dictionary which says, "the whole affair (slang)": "We only wanted a plane ticket, but the travel agent wanted to sell us the whole ball of wax."

The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins suggests that a 1620 legal text, Coke (Cook) on Littleton, gave a description of the distribution of inherited property. It seems that there were four female heirs who had to draw four balls of wax each of which contained a piece of paper wrapped up inside. Each woman had to draw a wax ball out of a hat to indicate her part of the inheritance.

The Morris presentation goes on to explain that, "Now, can't you visualize one of the daughters drawing from the hat and not being particularly happy with her selection, hearing someone say: 'Well, that's the whole ball of wax!' "

Sounds as if someone were trying to "shed light" on the unknown origin of the phrase by grabbing for "fire flies" and tearing their glowing tails off. There would seem to be more glow than light on this subject.

Here is another semantic theory about the "ball of wax"

According to Laurence Urdang, the former editor of Verbatim, The Language Quarterly, "Ball of wax, often extended to whole ball of wax, this idiom has puzzled etymologists, though its semantic origins seem obvious enough: wax is not only a substance to which almost anything will stick but also a material which will retain the impression of anything that comes in contact with it.

The reference is to ordinary wax, like beeswax, not to 'hard wax,' like sealing wax, which consists largely of lacquer. From these literal beginnings, it is not hard to understand the metaphoric extension the phrase has undergone to its present-day meaning of 'all things included.'

It is frequently used as an adjective, as in a ball-of-wax price, a price that includes everything, e.g., consists of materials, installation, taxes, and so forth."

—Laurence Urdang, The Whole Ball of Wax and Other Colloquial Phrases:
What They Mean & How they Started
; Perigee (Putnam), 1988, page 18.

Why couldn't it also be a reference to the full moon?

There is another viewpoint that suggests that since the moon is waxing in its phases from the new moon to a full moon, that the whole ball of wax could refer to the full moon that has become a "completely waxed ball" (or a "whole ball of wax") as shown in the following illustration.

The moon as the whole ball of wax.
Look, Lipo, the whole ball of wax is back again!
Word Info image © ALL rights reserved.

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