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I have heard it used several times recently, but I had no idea what it meant until I looked the term up on the Internet, because I had never heard it before.

Where does whole cloth come from? How and where is it used?

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I've never heard that either, could you give an example? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Sep 1 '11 at 17:56
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Wiktionary gives two example sentences with its idiomatic use. It is along these lines that I have heard it used in "real life". 1) A complete fabrication. A lie with no basis in the truth. Mr. Doe's account of the accident was made from whole cloth. 2) Something made completely new, with no history, and not based on anything else. The plans for the widget were drawn from whole cloth. –  demongolem Sep 1 '11 at 17:58
    
If you use Google, it will give you lots of answers on origins. –  simchona Sep 1 '11 at 17:59
    
I agree with simchona, there are many results if you do a search. Voting to close as General Reference. –  Alenanno Sep 1 '11 at 18:01
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@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner - Its fairly common. Search on "made up out of whole cloth" (the most common phrase using it), and you'll get around 4 million hits. –  T.E.D. Sep 1 '11 at 18:15
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closed as general reference by simchona, Alenanno, aedia λ, Matt Эллен, kiamlaluno Sep 1 '11 at 18:36

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Thefreedictionary has an entry:

Pure fabrication or fiction: "He invented, almost out of whole cloth, what it means to be American" (Ned Rorem). "His account of being drugged, kidnapped and tortured was made up of whole cloth" (George Carver).
[From the fabrication of garments out of newly manufactured, full-sized pieces of cloth.]

Another meaning is captured by Answers.com:

This expression is a hold over from the days when material was hand made and very expensive. If a garment was made new from material that had been custom made, it was said to be made of "whole cloth", not a patched garment...
So the expression "created out of whole cloth" generally is admiration for an excellently told tall tale that is usually a new story. Novels sometimes get their start this way.

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+1. It is a tailoring metaphor. The idea is that the story the person told was not a bunch of pre-existing things (eg: facts) they stitched together, but instead entirely their own personal creation. –  T.E.D. Sep 1 '11 at 18:11
    
See also this answer. –  John Lawler Dec 11 '13 at 18:58
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