verb (used with object)

to vote against (a candidate, applicant, etc.).
to exclude socially; ostracize: The whole town blackballed them.
to reject (a candidate) by placing a blackball in the ballot box.


a negative vote, especially in deciding on an applicant or candidate.
a black ball placed in a ballot box signifying a negative vote.

Origin of blackball

First recorded in 1760–70; black + ball1
Related formsblack·ball·er, noun

Synonyms for blackball Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for blackball

blacklist, ostracize, oust, veto, debar, repudiate, snub, reject, ban, exclude

Examples from the Web for blackball

Contemporary Examples of blackball

  • A radio executive said the Bush White House told them explicitly who they were expected to blackball from their airwaves.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Karl Rove's Flameout

    Matt Latimer

    October 22, 2010

  • Citi, however, is setting the standard, as epitomized by its Mike Mayo blackball.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Do Banks Still Play Us for Fools?

    Charlie Gasparino

    September 13, 2010

Historical Examples of blackball

British Dictionary definitions for blackball



a negative vote or veto
a black wooden ball used to indicate disapproval or to veto in a vote
NZ a hard boiled sweet with black-and-white stripes

verb (tr)

to vote against in a ballot
to exclude (someone) from a group, profession, etc; ostracize

Word Origin for blackball

C18: see sense 2
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 blackball

also black-ball, "to exclude from a club by adverse votes," 1770, from black (adj.) + ball (n.1). Black balls of wood or ivory dropped into an urn during secret ballots.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

blackball in Culture


A rejection of an applicant's membership in a private organization, such as a club or fraternity. The term is derived from the traditional practice of members voting anonymously on admitting new members, using either a white marble (acceptance) or a black marble (denial). Acceptance must be unanimous; therefore, one black marble in the ballot box is enough to keep the applicant out of the organization.


The term is now applied generally to efforts — especially unreasonable or vengeful actions — to keep a people or groups out of organizations they wish to join.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.