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
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.
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019
British Dictionary definitions for 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
Word Origin and History for ball and chain
a type of prisoner's restraint, 1818; as "one's wife," 1920.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Idioms and Phrases with 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
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