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[bawl] /bɔl/
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.
  1. a solid, usually spherical projectile for a cannon, rifle, pistol, etc., as distinguished from a shell.
  2. 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.
  1. boldness; courage; brashness.
  2. 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.
verb (used with object)
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.
verb (used without object)
to form or gather into a ball:
When the spun sugar balls, the candy has cooked sufficiently.
Slang: Vulgar. to have sexual intercourse.
Verb phrases
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.
  1. to act with speed.
  2. 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,
  1. alert and efficient or effective:
    If you don't get on the ball, you'll be fired.
  2. 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,
  1. to begin or continue playing a game.
  2. to start or continue any action.
  3. 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.
Origin of ball1
1175-1225; Middle English bal, balle < Old French < Germanic *ballaz; compare Old Norse bǫllr, Old High German bal, ballo, balla, German Ball, Dutch bal; perhaps akin to Latin follis leather bag; see ballock(s)
Related forms
baller, noun
Can be confused
bald, balled, bawled. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for balled up
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • For the first time I understood the phrase, to be 'all balled up.'

    A Woman Tenderfoot Grace Gallatin Seton-Thompson
  • They got all balled up, just as their intellectual betters do when they tackle theology.

    Old Crow Alice Brown
  • "They got it all balled up the night I seen it," says Bishop.

    Gullible's Travels, Etc. Ring W. Lardner
  • Don't you like it when they all get balled up and get out that way?

    Lin McLean Owen Wister
  • I got kind of balled up for one minute and thought it was you.

    Cheerful--By Request Edna Ferber
  • The fellows would get balled up unless they had a good hours drill first.

    Full-Back Foster

    Ralph Henry Barbour
  • He could clean this walk before folks get all balled up walking on it.

    Carolyn of the Corners Ruth Belmore Endicott
  • The Great Republic lengthened her skirts last year, balled up her hair, and entered the world's society.

  • Part of the time I sniveled and part of the time Allie sniveled, and once or twice we were all three all balled up in our throats.

    At Good Old Siwash George Fitch
British Dictionary definitions for balled up


John. died 1381, English priest: executed as one of the leaders of the Peasants' Revolt (1381)


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
  1. a solid nonexplosive projectile for a firearm Compare shell (sense 6)
  2. 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)
Usage note
Sense 9 of this word was formerly considered to be taboo, and it was labelled as such in previous editions of Collins English Dictionary. However, it has now become acceptable in speech, although some older or more conservative people may object to its use
Word Origin
C13: from Old Norse böllr; related to Old High German balla, Italian palla French balle


a social function for dancing, esp one that is lavish or formal
(informal) a very enjoyable time (esp in the phrase have a ball)
Word Origin
C17: from French bal (n), from Old French baller (vb), from Late Latin ballāre to dance, from Greek ballizein
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 balled up



"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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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balled up in Medicine

ball (bôl)

  1. A spherical object or mass.

  2. A bezoar.

  3. A large pill or bolus.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Slang definitions & phrases for balled up

balled up

adjective phrase

In a thoroughly confused and futile condition; erroneous and useless because of perverse incompetence; fucked up, screwed up: Things were totally balled up when the alarm went

[1880s+; probably fr the helplessness of a horse on a slippery street when its shoes have accumulated balls of ice; somehow the term has come to be associated with the testicles, as the related term bollixed up shows]



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


  1. To do the sex act; copulate with; screw (1940s+ Jazz musicians)
  2. 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

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 balled up
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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