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ball and chain

a heavy iron ball fastened by a chain to a prisoner's leg.
a burdensome restraint:
The steady accumulation of small debts was a ball and chain to his progress.
Facetious Slang: Often Offensive. a person's spouse or romantic partner, especially a female.
Origin of ball and chain
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. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for ball-and-chain

ball and chain

(formerly) a heavy iron ball attached to a chain and fastened to a prisoner
a heavy restraint
(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

ball and chain


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

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for ball-and-chain



One's wife; old woman (1920s+)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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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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