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2017 Word of the Year

ball and chain

noun
1.
a heavy iron ball fastened by a chain to a prisoner's leg.
2.
a burdensome restraint:
The steady accumulation of small debts was a ball and chain to his progress.
3.
Facetious Slang: Often Offensive. a person's spouse or romantic partner, especially a female.
Origin of ball and chain
1825-1835
An Americanism dating back to 1825-35
Usage note
In the meaning “romantic partner,” this term is consciously used for humorous or playful effect. But it is often perceived as insulting, implying that the partner is a burden or restriction on the other partner.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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British Dictionary definitions for ball and chain

ball and chain

noun
1.
(formerly) a heavy iron ball attached to a chain and fastened to a prisoner
2.
a heavy restraint
3.
(slang) a wife
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for ball and chain
n.

a type of prisoner's restraint, 1818; as "one's wife," 1920.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with ball and chain

ball and chain

A burden and restraint, as in Karen regarded her job as a ball and chain, but she needed the money. The term, dating from the early 1800s, alludes to chaining a heavy iron ball to a prisoner's leg. Later it was transferred to other kinds of restraining burden.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Word Value for ball

6
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