Green’s Dictionary of Slang

ball n.1

1. [mid-18C–1910s] (US) a bullet [? its circularity].

2. [mid-19C] (UK Und.) a prison ration, 170g (6oz) of meat [? the resemblance of the lump of meat].

3. [late 19C–1920s] (US) a silver dollar; in. pl., money [? its circularity].

4. [1910s–30s] a small package of a narcotic or other drug [the drug package is rolled into a ball].

5. [1910s+] (US) baseball [abbr.].

6. [1980s+] (orig. US black) basketball [abbr.].

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. [1920s+] (orig. US black) one’s wife or regular girlfriend; thus ball-and-chained, married.

2. [1940s] (US Und.) a tramp’s younger male companion.

ballgame (n.)

see separate entry.

ball game (n.)

[mid–19C] (US Und.) a form of confidence trick, based on betting on the contents of a supposedly sealed container.

ballhead (n.)

see separate entry.

ballhop (n.) [Gaelic sport]

[1970s+] (Irish) a rumour, an unsupported theory, a lie; thus ballhopper, a rumour-monger.

ball lump (n.) [resemblance]

[1920s–50s] (US tramp) a parcel of food given to a tramp.

ball-park (adj.)

see separate entry.

ball-up (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

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

[late 19C] (US) the earth.

ball of fire (n.)

1. [18C–late 19C] a glass of brandy [the effect of the liquor].

2. [20C+] an individual known for their energy, resourcefulness or drive.

3. [1920s] an excellent thing, idea.

ball of muscle (n.)

[1920s+] (Aus.) an energetic, lively person.

ball of wax (n.) [the wax used in shoe-making]

[19C] a shoemaker.

ball of yarn (n.) [19C Anglo-Irish bawdy folk-song, e.g. the lyric ‘Keep both hands on your little ball of yarn’]

[1940s–60s] (US) the female genitals.

ball up (v.)

see separate entry.

drop the ball (v.) [sporting imagery]

[1940s+] (orig. US) to make a mistake at a crucial moment.

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 ]

[1900s] (Aus.) to reprimand, to ‘shake up’.

have one’s eye on the ball (v.) [sporting imagery]

[20C+] to be alert and aware.

loose ball (n.) [soccer imagery]

[1970s+] (Irish) an opportunity to pick up free drink.

run with the ball (v.) [sporting imagery]

[1960s+] to take on a problem and tackle it on one’s own initiative, rather than passing the buck.

something on the ball (n.) [baseball imagery]

[1910s+] (US) skill, talent, great ability.