About This Word

8 ball

or 8-ball or eight-ball or eight ball or eightball

[ehyt bawl]

What does 8 ball mean?

An 8 ball is one eighth of an ounce of a drug (usually cocaine). It can also refer to a mix of crack-cocaine and heroin as well as the malt-liquor brand Olde English 800. Sometimes, it can act as a derogatory term for a black person.

Where does 8 ball come from?

The 8 in 8 ball derives from the measurement: one eighth of an ounce (roughly 3.5 grams) of a drug such as cocaine or methamphetamine. If dealt in a small baggie, it may appear ball-shaped. While the game of 8-ball pool has been around since 1900 and is based on pocketing the 8 ball, the 8-ball measurement didn’t gain traction among recreational drug users and dealers until the 1980s.

A legal sourcebook from 1983 describes the eightball as a “popular unit of transaction” for the sale of cocaine. A guidebook for youth leaders from the following year defined an eightball as “an eighth of an ounce of amphetamine,” showing that the term was in use for different drugs by that point. In 1985 the Chicago Police launched a narcotics investigation code-named “Operation Eight Ball.”

References to 8 balls of drugs became prevalent in hip-hop in the 1990s. A 1990 Digital Underground song included the lyric “Get a twenty, a forty or an eightball,” referring to a twenty-dollar bag of marijuana, a forty-ounce bottle of malt liquor, or an eighth of an ounce of drugs, respectively.

Hip-hop culture adopted another use of 8 ball in the 1980s: as a slang term for Olde English 800 brand malt liquor. This use is strongly associated with Eazy-E and appears in several NWA songs, including one titled “8 Ball.”

Who uses 8 ball?

8 ball as an amount of drugs is most often used by drug dealers and law enforcement and has been since the 1980s. It has also made its way into popular culture via rap. It can also be used on social media for comedic effect or dramatization.

Several references to 8 ball as in malt liquor appeared in songs by NWA in the mid 1980s, but other rappers, including Snoop Dogg and Afroman, have used the term since.

Green’s Dictionary of Slang records several other, though less common, slang uses of eight ball: a derogatory term for a black person (1919, on account of the pool ball’s color), a turd (1997, because of color and shape), and a group of prisoners serving eight-year sentences (2000).

For example

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall / With a joint, drinkin some 8-ball

Ice Cube, “A Gangsta's Fairytale,” (song), 1990

At her worst, Riggles says she was using an 8-ball (about 3.7 grams) of meth a day.

Kaysey Price, Detroit Lakes Online, December 2017

might fuck around and delete my entire social media presence, quit my job, drop out of school, do an 8 ball of coke, crawl under a porch, and die

@hunt5r, January 2018

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