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).
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 1: Ball - Prison allowance of meat (usually 6 oz.).
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 6: Ball, prison allowance.
[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].

[US]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 Up?’ 🎵 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]S. Paige Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever 43: [N]ot just big-time Negro ball, but big-time major league 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. Cain Blueschild Baby 30: They knew George Cain, All-American basketball player [...] Passing the playground, I see kids running ball. It’s unchanged since I played.
[US]W.D. Myers It Ain’t All for Nothin 66: Lonnie said [...] he was going to show me how to play ball.
[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. 🌐 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]W. Winchell Your Broadway & Mine 5 Dec. [synd. col.] They call Miss Manley ‘the ball of fire’ [...] Blond and low down, she is fascinating without being too vulgar.
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]M. Ribowsky Don’t Look Back 308: Trautman, his head no doubt spinning from the agonizing decisions demanded by integration against a Jim Crow backdrop, dropped the ball this time.
[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.
Work, Jones et al. Lost Delta Found editors’ intro. 22: Only Work kept his eye on the ball and kept it moving forward.
keep up the ball (v.)

to sustain a lifestyle, to maintain a social pose.

[UK]‘Little Peru’ in Hilaria 51: What’s honour and glory to flush ready rhino / Without which no captain can keep up 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’.
[US]W.D. Myers Lockdown 186: ‘How about you, Deepak? You want to run 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.
[US]W.D. Myers Cruisers: A Star is Born 123: ‘There are so many kids who have something on the ball [...] a lot of them will do well’.