[ blak-bawl ]
/ ˈblækˌbɔl /
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See synonyms for: blackball / blackballed / blackballing on Thesaurus.com

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.
Were you ready for a quiz on this topic? Well, here it is! See how well you can differentiate between the uses of "was" vs. "were" in this quiz.
Question 1 of 7
“Was” is used for the indicative past tense of “to be,” and “were” is only used for the subjunctive past tense.

Origin of blackball

First recorded in 1760–70; black + ball1


blackballer, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does blackball mean?

Blackball most commonly means to blacklist someone or otherwise ban, reject, or unfairly prevent them from joining an organization or participating in something. The act of doing so can also be called a blackball.

The word typically implies that the action being taken is both secretive and especially unfair or vengeful. It is often used in the context of someone being secretly blacklisted from a particular company, organization, or an entire industry.

Originally, the word blackball referred to a literal black ball placed in a ballot box to indicate a negative vote—a vote against a person. It can still be used to mean a negative vote or to vote against someone.

Example: Reports suggest that former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick is being actively blackballed by the league for protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

Where does blackball come from?

The first records of blackball come from the 1500s. In its earliest uses, it was often seen as two words (black ball) because it referred to a literal black ball (like a marble) used to indicate a negative vote. Its use as a verb is first recorded in the 1700s.

Back when people used black and white balls to indicate votes, a single black ball (indicating a no vote) could sometimes result in the rejection of a candidate, applicant, or proposal. In such a system, the voting was anonymous—meaning the voters issued their vote without identifying themselves. You can see how it became a perfect metaphor for keeping someone out through secretive means.

Blackballing is rarely done in any official way, or at least any publicly official way. Instead, the order to do so and the reasons for it are kept secret, so that the person who’s being blackballed can’t even get any answers about who’s doing it to them or why. Of course, the reason is often obvious and usually involves some violation of an unspoken rule of an organization. In this way, blackballs are often done as revenge. Blackballing is especially associated with fields and industries in which a powerful few are able to control or influence those beneath them, such Hollywood and politics.

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What are some other forms related to blackball?

  • blackballer (noun)

What are some synonyms for blackball?

What are some words that share a root or word element with blackball

What are some words that often get used in discussing blackball?


How is blackball used in real life?

Blackball is perhaps most commonly used in the context of politics or the entertainment industry, but it can be used in any field. The term usually implies that the speaker believes that such treatment is particularly unfair.



Try using blackball!

What happens when you get blackballed by a club you want to join? 

A. You become a new member.
B. You are elected president of the club.
C. You are not allowed to join.
D. You are recruited by the club.

How to use blackball in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for blackball

/ (ˈblækˌbɔːl) /

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

Cultural definitions for blackball


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.

notes for blackball

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.