noun Slang.

a state of confusion; mix-up.

Also especially British, balls-up [bawlz-uhp] /ˈbɔlzˌʌp/.

Origin of ballup

First recorded in 1935–40; noun use of verb phrase ball up




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).
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.

Origin of ball

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 formsball·er, noun
Can be confusedbald balled bawled Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for balls-up


US ballup



something botched or muddled

verb balls up, US ball up

(tr, adverb) to muddle or botch



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




a spherical or nearly spherical body or massa 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 sporta high ball
any of various rudimentary games with a ballto 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 firearmCompare shell (def. 6)
  2. such projectiles collectively
any more or less rounded part or protuberancethe ball of the foot
slang a testicleSee balls
vet science another word for bolus
horticulture the hard mass of roots and earth removed with the rest of the plant during transplanting
ball of muscle Australian 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
on the ball informal alert; informed
play ball informal to cooperate
set the ball rolling or 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


(tr) to make, form, wind, etc, into a ball or ballsto ball wool
(intr) to gather into a ball or balls
taboo, slang, mainly US to copulate (with)

Word Origin for ball

C13: from Old Norse böllr; related to Old High German balla, Italian palla French balle


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




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 for ball

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

Word Origin and History for balls-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

Medicine definitions for balls-up




A spherical object or mass.
A bezoar.
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.

Idioms and Phrases with balls-up


In addition to the idioms beginning with ball

  • ball and chain
  • ball of fire
  • ball up

also see:

  • behind the eight ball
  • break one's balls
  • by the balls
  • carry the ball
  • crystal ball
  • drop the ball
  • eyeball to eyeball
  • get the ball rolling
  • have a ball
  • have one's eye on the ball
  • have someone by the balls
  • on the ball
  • play ball
  • put in mothballs
  • snowball's chance in hell
  • that's how the ball bounces
  • whole ball of wax
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.