ellen yard n Also ell and yard(s), ellenrods, ellen yards, ellen’s yard, elnyard(s), hellnyard, helnyards [Prob survivals, variously altered, esp by folk-etym, of ME el(ne) yerd ell measure (MED at eln(e n.(2) 2, OED2 at ell n.1). The transfer in sense is not attested in Brit sources, but is closely paralleled by Scots elwand ell measure, belt of Orion (OED2 ell-wand, SND elwan(d)).] chiefly Sth, S Midl obs? Cf yard and ell n
The belt (and sometimes the sword) of the constellation Orion; broadly, Orion as a whole; occas appar transf to other constellations (see quots 1893, 1989).
1834 Nantucket Inquirer (MA) 4 June 1/5, “We give to our readers,” says the editor, “another charming article from that most able and transcendantly humorous paper, the New-York Milky Way and Literary Ell and Yards, edited by our friend Luke Noodle, Esq.” 1836 Burritt Geog. Heavens 57, In the middle of the parallelogram are three stars of the 2d magnitude, in the belt of Orion, that form a straight line. . . They are usually distinguished by the name of the Three Stars. . . But the more common appellation for them, including those in the sword, is the Ell and Yard. 1856 Weekly NC Standard (Raleigh) 8 Oct /5, He went to Bawltymore and made a speech about the seven stars, moon, ellen-yard, Job’s coffin, the milky way and fiery tailed comics, and so forth. 1891 Harris Balaam 221 cGA, He pointed to the sword and belt of Orion hanging low in the southwest. “The ell an’ yard are a-makin’ the’r disappearance,” he said; “an’ ef I stay out much longer, my old ’oman ’ll think I’ve been a-settin’ up by a jug somewheres. 1893 MLN 8.256 SC, VA, AL, A year ago, during a visit to my home in South Carolina, I heard for the first time the name elnyard, elnyards, or helnyards, applied to the Seven Stars, the Pleiades. The negroes . . use that name. On returning to Baltimore, I asked some of my Southern student friends about the word, and much to my encouragement, found that it was current in Virginia and in Alabama. All agreed that the elnyards were the Seven Stars. 1897 Jrl. Amer. Folkl. 10.298 MD, An old negro woman in Maryland, when asked why she called the constellation [=Orion] the “hellnyard,” replied, “My missus told me so.” 1899 (1912) Green VA Folk-Speech 164, Ellenyard. . . The yard-stick. The three stars in the belt of Orion. 1913 Colfax Co. Stockman (Springer NM) 15 Feb /4, It was getting along toward midnight and the Ellenyard was shining its brightest when the passel struck the trail which led through old man Anthony’s lane of barb wire down the river past Charlie Hungerford’s slaughtering pens. 1913 Macon Telegraph (GA) 31 July 4/5, It [=Sirius] is situated a little below Orion (commonly called “Ellen Yards”). 1937 in 1972 Amer. Slave 7.1.318 OK, Old Mistress would tell us about de stars . She’d tell us and show us de Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Milky Way, Ellen’s Yard, Job’s Coffin, and de Seven Sisters. 1943 Benton Cow by the Tail 45, Every bright star in the sky were named by the early cowboys on the cattle trails. . . Some of them names were never found in any book, but we knew which ones was meant when the boys spoke of The Diamond, the Ellenrods, Job’s Coffin, the Seven Stars, Midnight Triangle, the Big Dipper. 1948 Richmond Times–Dispatch (VA) 16 Apr 26/6, When I was a child I heard the grown people of my family and their guests laughing over the way an old farmer had settled the time of a certain event, by stating: ‘It was at —— o’clock; because when it happened the Seven Stars an’ the Ellen Yards was over Tillerson’s gate.’ 1952 Brown NC Folkl. 1.536 c, eNC, Ell and yard. . . The three stars in the belt of Orion. c1960 Wilson Coll. csKY, Ell and yard or Ellen Yard—the three stars in Orion’s girdle. This was common at Fidelity as far back as I can remember. 1989 Caldwell Watchman–Progress (Columbia LA) 11 Oct 2/2 swMP [Black], Many nights we would be miles from home but Joe would look up at the stars and see the big dipper which he called the “Ellen Yard.” He would say, “Follow the direction of the tail of the Ellen Yard and we would always come to the “Big Road.”