hardball

[hahrd-bawl]
adjective
  1. tough or ruthless: He wasn't ready for the hardball politics of Washington.
  2. outspoken, challenging, or difficult: Reporters asked the president some hardball questions.
Idioms
  1. play hardball, to act or work aggressively, competitively, or ruthlessly, as in business or politics.

Origin of hardball

First recorded in 1825–35; hard + ball1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for play hardball

hardball

noun
  1. US and Canadian baseball as distinct from softball
  2. play hardball informal, mainly US and Canadian to act in a ruthless or uncompromising way
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 play hardball

hardball

n.

1883 as the name of a game, from hard + ball (n.1). The figurative sense of "tough, uncompromising behavior" is from 1973.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with play hardball

play hardball

Act aggressively and ruthlessly, as in It's only a month before the election, and I'm sure they'll start to play hardball. This term originated in baseball, where it alludes to using the standard ball as opposed to the slightly larger and minimally softer ball of softball. It was transferred to describe aggressive behavior only in the 1970s.

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