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View synonyms for ball and chain

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.


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


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Sensitive 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.

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Word History and Origins

Origin of ball and chain1

An Americanism dating back to 1825–35

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Idioms and Phrases

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.

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Example Sentences

The former prime minister trades bunga-bunga for ball-and-chain as he announces engagement to 27-year-old Francesca Pascale.

What a ghastly prison marriage was, he thought, a thing as hostile to the free human spirit as an iron ball-and-chain.

Yesterday the President remitted the sentence of a poor lad, sentenced to ball-and-chain for six months, for cowardice, etc.

I say your old rag of a Constitution is a ball-and-chain on your national leg.

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Definitions and idiom definitions from Dictionary.com Unabridged, based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

Idioms from The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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