What's the origin of the phrase "the whole ball of wax"?
The ineffable Jamie wonders from where "the whole ball of wax" came. William and Mary Morris, authors of the indispensable "Dictionary Of Word And Phrase Origins", have uncovered three possible sources for this phrase, which, of course means 'some thing or situation in its entirety'. They first report that the phrase became quite popular on Madison Avenue in the 1960's. Of the three theories, the one that suggest that the phrase refers to Madame Tussaud's waxworks is perhaps the most imbecilic. Only slightly less tortured is the suggestion that in the 17th century, estate property was sometimes divvied up in a lottery of sorts involving scraps of paper concealed in little 'balls of waxe'. Dissatisfied participants perhaps snorted "well, that's the whole ball of wax!" upon the realization that they were screwed. Riigght!
Notion number three is that the expression is a corruption of "the whole bailiwick". Now that seems right to me. It turns the phrase into a malaprop, and it's easy to imagine lazy modern minds corrupting an expression using an essentially dead word.