Green’s Dictionary of Slang

balls-up n.

also balls
[synon. with cock-up n.; fuck-up n. (1)]

1. (orig. milit.) a blunder, an error.

[UK]Barrère & Leland Dict. of Sl., Jargon and Cant.
[UK]‘J.H. Ross’ Mint (1955) 61: The biggest balls-up ever.
[UK](con. WWI) R. Graves Goodbye to All That (1960) 125: ‘Tomorrow’s going to be a glorious balls-up.’ [Ibid.] 127: ‘What’s happened?’ I asked. ‘Bloody balls-up.’.
[US](con. 1917) ‘W.W. Windstaff’ ‘A Flier’s War’ in Longstreet Canvas Falcons (1970) 276: Usual airforce ballsup.
‘George Orwell’ Coming Up For Air (1998) 127: You couldn’t go on regarding society as something eternal and unquestionable, like a pyramid. You knew it was just a balls-up.
[UK]R. Llewellyn None But the Lonely Heart 244: You can’t make a bigger balls than what they done.
[UK]J. Maclaren-Ross Swag, the Spy and the Soldier in Lehmann Penguin New Writing No. 26 51: ‘What do you make of this case, corporal?’ ‘Bleeding balls-up, between you and me.’.
[UK]P. Larkin letter 30 July in Thwaite Sel. Letters (1992) 166: This evening I painted the sight of the garden from the dining room window in water colours. This started all right in a vicar’s-daughter way but finished as rather a balls up.
[SA]H. Bloom Transvaal Episode 108: This is the biggest balls-up of a raid I ever heard of.
[UK]N. Dunn Poor Cow 77: I could feel the tears come into my eyes. What a balls up!
[US]L. Bangs in Psychotic Reactions (1988) 231: I moved in on him and commenced my second misinformed balls-up of the evening.
[UK]F. Norman Too Many Crooks Spoil the Caper 18: Yuh bound ter make a balls up of it, Ed.
[UK]J. Sullivan ‘A Touch of Glass’ Only Fools and Horses [TV script] It means there was a balls-up at the factory and they put the wrong chimes in!
[Aus]M. Bail Holden’s Performance (1989) 286: There was a balls-up at Foreign Affairs.
[SA]P. Hotz Muzukuru 10: He’d once been a lootie in a honky unit – all our officers were honkies – but he’d made such a drastic balls-up that he’d been sent on to us.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 28 June 1: You would not enjoy making a balls-up of the lamb dopiaza under her imperious gaze.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett Leaving Bondi (2013) [ebook] ‘What a gigantic balls-up’.
[Ire]G. Coughlan Everyday Eng. and Sl. [Internet] Balls (n): to mess up, e.g. I made a balls of that job.
[Aus]T. Winton ‘Abbreviation’ in Turning (2005) 17: It was the usual Uncle Ernie balls-up.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

[US]R. Price Breaks 55: Madison countered with a balls-up move [...] No sale.
[US]J. Wambaugh Golden Orange (1991) 252: I’m a real balls-up guy.

In phrases

make a balls of (v.)

to make a mistake, to get into trouble.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (1984) 44: since 1890.
[UK]J. Maclaren-Ross Of Love And Hunger 95: The bastard made a balls of it.
[Ire]H. Leonard Out After Dark 101: You’re making a balls of it. Wrong end of the stick.
[Ire]F. Mac Anna Last of the High Kings 88: Just do your best [...] but make a balls of things and I’ll fracture your skull.
[Ire](con. 1970) G. Moxley Danti-Dan in McGuinness Dazzling Dark (1996) I iii: Yer man made a balls of the wiring trying to do it himself. Langer.
make a barney balls of oneself (v.)

(Irish) to make a fool of oneself.

[UK]P. Kavanagh Tarry Flynn (1965) 105: Ah, dry up and don’t be making a barney balls of yourself.