Green’s Dictionary of Slang

ball n.1

1. (US) a bullet [? its circularity].

[UK]Trial of Charles Drew 11: Lawrence Rainbird, Surg. I examin’d the Wounds of the Deceased [...] and I took three Balls out of his Body.
[UK]‘Nurse Lovechild’ Tommy Thumb’s Songbook II 43: There was a little Man, / And he had a little Gun, / And the Ball was made of Lead.
A. Murphy Gray’s-Inn Journal No. 24 204: He, who has not killed his man, or lodged a ball in the abdomen, is considered as an equivocal character.
[UK]Hants Chron. 11 Apr. 3/1: The midshipman [...] received a ball in the breast, which has since been extracted.
[US]Adventures of Jonathan Corncob 64: The whizzing of the ball brought me to my recollection.
[UK]J. Wetherell Adventures of John Wetherell (1954) 27 Feb. 130: I began to be troubled with a ball that had been lodged in my hip.
[US]D. Crockett in Meine Crockett Almanacks (1955) 131: I instantly put a ball through him near the heart.
[US]L.H. Medina Nick of the Woods II i: I’ll send a ball through your skull that shall let out your crazy brains!
[US]T. Haliburton Nature and Human Nature I 256: I have three balls in me now, which the doctors couldn’t extract.
[US]J.F. Brobst letter in Brobst Well Mary, Civil War Letters 87: There has never but one rebel ball hit me yet.
[Aus]C. Money Knocking About in N.Z. 140: The balls began to rattle about the trees above us.
[US]Globe Live Stock Journal 5 Aug. in Miller & Snell Why the West was Wild 463: Archie Franklin, the cow-boy who was shot accidentally by one of the balls.
[UK]Star (Renoldscille, PA) 7 June 6/3: Put a ball through that critter.
[UK]R.H. Savage Brought to Bay 77: This ball would go plum through a buffalo.
[US]J. Lomax Cowboy Songs 151: They pierced poor Sam with rifle balls.
[Can]R. Service ‘My Prisoner’ in Rhymes of a Red Cross Man 121: I’ll let yer ’ave a rifle ball instead.
[US](con. WWI) H. Odum Wings on My Feet 93: I’m gonna buy me Winchester rifle, / An’ box o’ balls, Lawd, box o’ balls.

2. (UK Und.) a prison ration, 170g (6oz) of meat [? the resemblance of the lump of meat].

[UK]H. Brandon Dict. of the Flash or Cant Lang. 161/1: Ball – prison allowance, six ounces of meat.
[UK] ‘Ducange Anglicus’ Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Derbyshire Courier 12 Dec. 7/1: Local Flash language [...] A ball, prison allowance of meat.
[US]Trumble Sl. Dict. (1890).
[US] ‘Jargon of the Und.’ in DN V 437: Ball, (2) A prison allowance.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

3. (US) a silver dollar; in. pl., money [? its circularity].

[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 348: I’ll give you five balls fer ’im.
[US]Ade ‘The New Fable of the Private Agitator’ in Ade’s Fables 21: He never caught up with Colonel Bogey, but he had enough Class to trim our Hero and collect 6 Balls.
[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 301: Ball—a dollar.
[US] ‘Jargon of the Und.’ in DN V 437: Ball, A silver dollar.
[US]L. Stavsky et al. A2Z 5: balls – dollars or money: He rollin’ in a Benz and you ask if he got balls?!

4. a small package of a narcotic or other drug [the drug package is rolled into a ball].

[UK]D. Lowrie My Life in Prison 79: Guys what I never suspicioned o’ usin’ dope went around beggin’ friend f’r a ball.
[US]W. O’Connor Jockeys, Crooks and Kings 42: As I got back the trainer was giving his [race] horse a ‘ball,’ that is, some dope applied internally.
1011 ‘Next Up7’ [lyrics] 4 and a half, got bags of ball [i.e crack cocaine] and dust, man slap it in 10s.

5. (US) baseball [abbr.].

[US]S.F. Bulletin 14 Mar. 20: Its sister organization, the oaks, is playing a colorless and sloppy article of ball.
[US]M. Leyner Et Tu, Babe (1993) 136: He pitched, I believe, four or five no-hitters [...] when he played semi-pro ball down in the Galápagos Islands.

6. (orig. US black) basketball [abbr.].

[US]G. Tate ‘Miles Davis in Memorium’ in Flyboy in the Buttermilk (1992) 86: Music and ’ball both do this.
[US]Simon & Burns Corner (1998) 124: The rest of them stood there [...] politely silent only because they wanted to play ball.
[US](con. 1970s) G. Pelecanos King Suckerman (1998) 115: He [...] put some ball clothes together with the herb into a gym bag.
[US](con. 1986) G. Pelecanos Sweet Forever 61: He could keep to himself, have a slow glass of cold beer, watch a little ball.
[US]G. Pelecanos Night Gardener 59: Kids [...] who had begun to drink a little and get blazed had kinda dropped off from playing ball.

7. see balls n. (1)

SE in slang uses

In compounds

ball and chain (n.) [SE ball and chain, a device that secured convicts during 19C]

1. (orig. US black) one’s wife or regular girlfriend; thus ball-and-chained, married.

[US]Hecht & Bodenheim Cutie 62: So this is the way you have been deceiving me! [...] with a ball and chain waiting for you at home.
[US]Hecht & MacArthur Front Page Act I: sheriff: Oh, hello, dear. kruger: Sounds like the ball and chain.
[US]H.C. Witwer Yes Man’s Land 185: ‘Oh, please don’t start a row, Egbert!’ murmurs his ball-and-chain.
[US]J.T. Farrell ‘A Practical Joke’ in Short Stories (1937) 182: She’s his ball-and-chain, all right.
[Aus]Argus (Melbourne) 24 Feb. 7/1: I did perform a very Victoria Crosseyed act in inviting my Ball and Chain to come along.
[US]J. Archibald ‘When a Body Meets a Body’ in Popular Detective Sept. [Internet] Louie’s ball and chain called Willie at noon. ‘We’ve made up, Mr. Klump,’ she said happily.
[Aus]D. Cusack Caddie 208: He hasn’t got himself a ball and chain yet.
[UK]J. Osborne World of Paul Slickey Act II: My sweet, gold ball-and-chain, / I’ll be hers, hers.
[US]T. Berger Reinhart in Love (1963) 97: Go get your ball and chain and your deductions.
[Aus]M. Bail Homesickness (1999) 275: Do you have any ruddy ball-and-chains here?
[Ire]J. O’Connor Secret World of the Irish Male (1995) 45: Went to Margate with the ball and chain.
[US]Mad mag. July 28: The gay friend you used to cry to about your bad relationships [...] has to get home to the ‘old ball and chain’.

2. (US Und.) a tramp’s younger male companion.

[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
ballgame (n.)

see separate entry.

ball game (n.)

(US Und.) a form of confidence trick, based on betting on the contents of a supposedly sealed container.

Brooklyn Eve. Star 12 Apr. 2/3: [Two men were swindled] by having the ‘ball game’ played upon them. [They were] induced to participate in a bet on the contents of a ball.
ballhead (n.)

see separate entry.

ballhop (n.) [Gaelic sport]

(Irish) a rumour, an unsupported theory, a lie; thus ballhopper, a rumour-monger.

[Ire]N. Conway Bloods 21: They listened and said nothing but when his words came to pass they forgot his Dublin ‘ball-hop’.
[Ire](con. 1950s) C. Kenneally Maura’s Boy 11: She was a gregarious, impulsive girl, with a northsider’s relish for ‘ballhopping’ (teasing). [Ibid.] 41: Go ’way, ye ballhopper.
ball lump (n.) [resemblance]

(US tramp) a parcel of food given to a tramp.

[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 305: Ball lump—sandwiches, cake, etc, handed out to a tramp, wrapped in paper.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 22/1: Ball lump. (Hobo) A sandwich, or other cold food handout, wrapped in paper.
ball-park (adj.)

see separate entry.

ball-up (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

ball of dirt (n.) [fig. use of SE + ? rhy. sl.]

(US) the earth.

[US]F. Norris Moran of the Lady Letty 47: There ain’t no manner of place on the ball of dirt where you’re likely to run up afoul of so many things – unexpected things.
ball of fire (n.)

1. a glass of brandy [the effect of the liquor].

[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London II 91: A ball of fire, ∮ a dose of daffy, or a blow out of black strap, will set the blue devils at defiance, give a spur to harmony, and set the spirits a jogging. [∮ A ball of fire—A glass of brandy].

2. an individual known for their energy, resourcefulness or drive.

[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 35: fire, ball of, n. Brilliant student, usually with the added idea of great energy.
[US]Fact Detective Mysteries 21 n.p.: He was sometimes enviously referred to as a go-getter, a hot shot, a ball of fire [W&F].
[US]R. Chandler Long Good-Bye 55: The cops were too slow at Torreon. Mex cops are no balls of fire.
[US]‘Toney Betts’ Across the Board 134: He owns a stable of horses and is a ball of fire in New Jersey and Maryland.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 15: ball of fire/muscle Energetic person, maybe overly so, from 1930s.

3. an excellent thing, idea.

[UK]Wodehouse Leave it to Psmith (1993) 517: Is it or is it not [...] a ball of fire?
ball of muscle (n.)

(Aus.) an energetic, lively person.

[Aus]Gippsland Times (Vic.) 1 Oct. 5/3: I’m a bouncin’ ball er muscle, / Take me tip, I’m full uv ‘ustle, / An’ I’m angshus fer a tussle / With enny likely job.
[Aus]K. Tennant Foveaux 160: Rolfe was again ‘a ball of muscle’, as he termed it, working on the Slum Abolition Committee.
[Aus]Cusack & James Come in Spinner (1960) 269: You look a ball of muscle tonight.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 15: ball of fire/muscle Energetic person, maybe overly so, from 1930s.
ball of wax (n.) [the wax used in shoe-making]

a shoemaker.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 191: Waxy ― a cobbler or shoemaker; sometimes he is dubbed ‘lad of wax;’ at others, ‘ball o’ wax’.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. 4: Ball o’wax, a snob or shoe-maker.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 18 Nov. 2/4: The Deaf ’un was weak, and evidently out-generalled; his blows were all at random, out of distance, and easily evaded by Ball-o'-wax [i.e. a prize-fighting shoemaker].
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
ball of yarn (n.) [19C Anglo-Irish bawdy folk-song, e.g. the lyric ‘Keep both hands on your little ball of yarn’]

(US) the female genitals.

[US] in Randolph & Legman Ozark Folksongs and Folklore (1992) I 97: Well, I took her ’round the waist an’ I gently laid her down [...] While the blackbird and the thrush were a banging in the brush, / I wound up her little ball of yarn, yarn, yarn.
[US] in E. Cray Erotic Muse (1992) 91: She gave me her consent, to the living room we went, / And I asked her where she kept her ball of yarn. / She says, ‘Underneath my gown,’ and I gently lyed [sic] her down, / And wound up her little ball of yarn.
ball up (v.)

see separate entry.

drop the ball (v.) [sporting imagery]

(orig. US) to make a mistake at a crucial moment.

[US]N. Mailer Naked and Dead 315: How many other times have you dropped the ball on patrol?
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Peacock Valhalla 459: I’ve known for quite some time that he’s been, shall we say, dropping the ball?
[US]C. McFadden Serial 110: When Harold dropped the ball on the music, Martha somehow rounded up a Moog synthesiser and two electric guitars.
[US]W. Shaw Westsiders 96: We got to make sure we don’t drop the ball.
give someone a ball (v.) [the mythical trotting ball, supposedly administered to enliven horses, itself from veterinary use, ball, a large pill; Stephens & O’Brien, Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Slang (ms.; 1900–10), also state that ball is ‘by transference [...] a nip of spirits’, but this may be a confusion with older ball n.2 ]

(Aus.) to reprimand, to ‘shake up’.

[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.] 9: To give a man ‘a ball’ is to shake him up. A talking to or livening up.
have one’s eye on the ball (v.) [sporting imagery]

to be alert and aware.

[UK]K. Sampson Outlaws (ms.) 27: They drink or they fuck around or whatever, they don’t pay attention to what they’re doing and that, don’t have their eye on the ball.
loose ball (n.) [soccer imagery]

(Irish) an opportunity to pick up free drink.

[Ire]Dublin Opinion May n.p.: A local man made good was whooping it up with a few friends; inevitably a loose ball gatherer quietly took up his station [BS].
run with the ball (v.) [sporting imagery]

to take on a problem and tackle it on one’s own initiative, rather than passing the buck.

[US]Encyc. Science Supplement 111: Federal approval may still be forthcoming at a later date, and ‘private industry might choose to run with the ball’.
[UK]Observer Mag. 24 Feb. 29: Sometimes in politics you have to ‘kick across the field, instead of running straight with the ball’.
something on the ball (n.) [baseball imagery]

(US) skill, talent, great ability.

[US]Collier’s 13 Apr. 19/1: He’s got nothing on the ball—nothing at all [DA].
[US]Coshocton (OH) Trib. 13 Feb. 9/1: Every good athlete ‘has something on the ball’, but the layman is never certain just what he has on which ball.
[US]A.J. Liebling Honest Rainmaker (1991) 62: Now the figurator thinks he really must have something on the ball.