Ball up

a spherical or approximately spherical body or shape; sphere:
He rolled the piece of paper into a ball.
a round or roundish body, of various sizes and materials, either hollow or solid, for use in games, as baseball, football, tennis, or golf.
a game played with a ball, especially baseball:
The boys are out playing ball.
Baseball. a pitched ball, not swung at by the batter, that does not pass over home plate between the batter’s shoulders and knees.

a solid, usually spherical projectile for a cannon, rifle, pistol, etc., as distinguished from a shell.
projectiles, especially bullets, collectively.

any part of a thing, especially of the human body, that is rounded or protuberant:
the ball of the thumb.
a round mass of food, as of chopped meat, dough, or candy.
Slang: Vulgar. a testis.
balls, Slang: Vulgar.

boldness; courage; brashness.
nonsense (often used as an interjection).

bolus (def 1).
Horticulture. a compact mass of soil covering the roots of an uprooted tree or other plant.
Literary. a planetary or celestial body, especially the earth.
Mathematics. (in a metric space) the set of points whose distance from the zero element is less than, or less than or equal to, a specified number.
to make into a ball (sometimes followed by up):
The children were balling up snow to make a snowman.
to wind into balls:
to ball cotton.
Slang: Vulgar. to have sexual intercourse with.
to form or gather into a ball:
When the spun sugar balls, the candy has cooked sufficiently.
Slang: Vulgar. to have sexual intercourse.
ball up, Slang. to make or become utterly confused; muddle:
The records had been all balled up by inefficient file clerks.
ball the jack, Slang.

to act with speed.
to stake everything on one attempt.

carry the ball, to assume the responsibility; bear the burden:
You can always count on him to carry the ball in an emergency.
drop the ball, to make a mistake or miss an opportunity at a critical moment.
keep the ball rolling, to continue or give renewed vigor to an activity already under way:
When their interest lagged, he tried to keep the ball rolling.
on the ball,

alert and efficient or effective:
If you don’t get on the ball, you’ll be fired.
indicating intelligence or ability:
The tests show your students don’t have much on the ball. The new manager has a lot on the ball.

play ball,

to begin or continue playing a game.
to start or continue any action.
to work together; cooperate:
union leaders suspected of playing ball with racketeers.

run with the ball, to assume responsibility or work enthusiastically:
If management approves the concept, we’ll run with the ball.
start the ball rolling, to put into operation; begin:
The recreation director started the ball rolling by having all the participants introduce themselves.
Contemporary Examples

When liberals suffer one, they ball up like kittens and ask themselves, “Oh, gee, what did we do wrong?”
Michael Tomasky: Democrats Should Come Out Swinging Against the Court Michael Tomasky June 23, 2012

Historical Examples

Then produce the ball previously left in the breast pocket, and you will seem to have passed a ball up your sleeve.
Magic Ellis Stanyon

He made two attempts to get out and then picked his ball up.
Happy Days Alan Alexander Milne

Each party has its post, and the game consists in throwing the ball up to the post of the adversary.
The American Indians Henry R. Schoolcraft

He practised throwing the ball up in the air and catching it again.
Dr. Jolliffe’s Boys Lewis Hough

At one time he had kept the ball up for as good as half-an-hour, when Shemus cried out, ‘Well done, my hurler!’
Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry William Butler Yeats

They hit the ball up and down the width of the ground till Benami and the rest were outpaced.
The Day’s Work, Volume 1 Rudyard Kipling

He made two attempts to get out, and then picked his ball up.
Once a Week Alan Alexander Milne

Then they were coached in picking the ball up without stopping and in catching it on the bound as it was tossed in front of them.
Center Rush Rowland Ralph Henry Barbour

But if she is imposing on Mr. T. in thus guiding the ball up hill, she soon gets the Roland for her Oliver.
Harper’s Round Table, September 24, 1895 Various

a spherical or nearly spherical body or mass: a ball of wool
a round or roundish body, either solid or hollow, of a size and composition suitable for any of various games: football, golf, billiards, etc
a ball propelled in a particular way in a sport: a high ball
any of various rudimentary games with a ball: to play ball
(cricket) a single delivery of the ball by the bowler to the batsman
(baseball) a single delivery of the ball by a pitcher outside certain limits and not swung at by the batter

a solid nonexplosive projectile for a firearm Compare shell (sense 6)
such projectiles collectively

any more or less rounded part or protuberance: the ball of the foot
(slang) a testicle See balls
(vet science) another word for bolus
(horticulture) the hard mass of roots and earth removed with the rest of the plant during transplanting
(Austral) ball of muscle, a very strong, fit, or forceful person
have the ball at one’s feet, to have the chance of doing something
keep the ball rolling, to maintain the progress of a project, plan, etc
(informal) on the ball, alert; informed
(informal) play ball, to cooperate
set the ball rolling, start the ball rolling, to open or initiate (an action, discussion, movement, etc)
the ball is in your court, you are obliged to make the next move
(transitive) to make, form, wind, etc, into a ball or balls: to ball wool
(intransitive) to gather into a ball or balls
(taboo, slang, mainly US) to copulate (with)
a social function for dancing, esp one that is lavish or formal
(informal) a very enjoyable time (esp in the phrase have a ball)
John. died 1381, English priest: executed as one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt (1381)

“round object,” Old English *beal, from or corresponding to Old Norse bollr “ball,” from Proto-Germanic *balluz (cf. Old High German ballo, German Ball), from PIE root *bhel- (2) “to blow, inflate, swell” (see bole).

Meaning “testicle” is from early 14c. Ball of the foot is from mid-14c. A ball as an object in a sports game is recorded from c.1200; To have the ball “hold the advantage” is from c.1400. To be on the ball is 1912, from sports. Ball-point pen first recorded 1946. Ball of fire when first recorded in 1821 referred to “a glass of brandy;” as “spectacularly successful striver” it is c.1900.

“dancing party,” 1630s, from French, from Old French baller “to dance,” from Late Latin ballare “to dance,” from Greek ballizein “to dance, jump about” (see ballistics). Hence, “very enjoyable time,” 1945, American English slang, perhaps back to 1930s in black slang.

1650s, “make into a ball,” from ball (n.1). Sense of “to become like a ball” is 1713; that of “to copulate” is first recorded 1940s in jazz slang, either from the noun sense of “testicle” or “enjoyable time” (from ball (n.2)). Related: Balled; balling.

ball (bôl)

A spherical object or mass.

A bezoar.

A large pill or bolus.


Confusion; blundering: The ball-up abroad has been supervised by Harry’s advisers (1900+)

verb phrase

To confuse; mix up; lead astray: This guy has balled me up totally •Attested fr 1856 in the sense ”to fail an examination”
To wreck or ruin by incompetence; botch; bollix up, fuck up, screw up: I managed to ball up the whole project (1880s+)


A testicle; nut (1300s+)
A dollar, esp a silver dollar •Attested in the late 1980s as high-school student use (1890s+ Underworld)
The game of baseball (1860s+)


To do the sex act; copulate with; screw (1940s+ Jazz musicians)
To have an especially good time; enjoy oneself in a relaxed and uninhibited way: A good-time town, where everybody comes to ball (1940s+ Black)

Related Terms

ball up, beanball, butterfly ball, cannonball, carry the load, fireball, forkball, foul ball, get on the ball, go for the long ball, goofball, gopher ball, greaseball, greedball, have a ball, junk-ball, keep one’s eye on the ball, meatball, not get one’s balls in an uproar, nutball, oddball, on the ball, play ball, play catch-up, sleazebag, slimebag, softball, sourball, that’s the way the ball bounces
Roll something into a ball, as in She loved to knit and was always balling up her yarn. [ Early 1800s ]
Confuse or bungle, as in Jane got all balled up at the beginning of her speech, or Henry really balled up that exam. This term may come from the fact that when a horse is driven over soft or partly thawed snow, the snow becomes packed into icy balls on its hoofs, making it stumble. Another theory is that it alludes to the vulgar term balls for testicles. [ First half of 1900s ]

ball and chain
ball of fire
ball up


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