drop the ball


  1. a spherical or approximately spherical body or shape; sphere: He rolled the piece of paper into a ball.
  2. a round or roundish body, of various sizes and materials, either hollow or solid, for use in games, as baseball, football, tennis, or golf.
  3. a game played with a ball, especially baseball: The boys are out playing ball.
  4. Baseball. a pitched ball, not swung at by the batter, that does not pass over home plate between the batter’s shoulders and knees.
  5. Military.
    1. a solid, usually spherical projectile for a cannon, rifle, pistol, etc., as distinguished from a shell.
    2. projectiles, especially bullets, collectively.
  6. any part of a thing, especially of the human body, that is rounded or protuberant: the ball of the thumb.
  7. a round mass of food, as of chopped meat, dough, or candy.
  8. Slang: Vulgar. a testis.
  9. balls, Slang: Vulgar.
    1. boldness; courage; brashness.
    2. nonsense (often used as an interjection).
  10. bolus(def 1).
  11. Horticulture. a compact mass of soil covering the roots of an uprooted tree or other plant.
  12. Literary. a planetary or celestial body, especially the earth.
  13. 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)

  1. to make into a ball (sometimes followed by up): The children were balling up snow to make a snowman.
  2. to wind into balls: to ball cotton.
  3. Slang: Vulgar. to have sexual intercourse with.

verb (used without object)

  1. to form or gather into a ball: When the spun sugar balls, the candy has cooked sufficiently.
  2. Slang: Vulgar. to have sexual intercourse.

Verb Phrases

  1. ball up, Slang. to make or become utterly confused; muddle: The records had been all balled up by inefficient file clerks.
  1. ball the jack, Slang.
    1. to act with speed.
    2. to stake everything on one attempt.
  2. carry the ball, to assume the responsibility; bear the burden: You can always count on him to carry the ball in an emergency.
  3. drop the ball, to make a mistake or miss an opportunity at a critical moment.
  4. keep the ball rolling, to continue or give renewed vigor to an activity already under way: When their interest lagged, he tried to keep the ball rolling.
  5. on the ball,
    1. alert and efficient or effective: If you don’t get on the ball, you’ll be fired.
    2. indicating intelligence or ability: The tests show your students don’t have much on the ball. The new manager has a lot on the ball.
  6. play ball,
    1. to begin or continue playing a game.
    2. to start or continue any action.
    3. to work together; cooperate: union leaders suspected of playing ball with racketeers.
  7. run with the ball, to assume responsibility or work enthusiastically: If management approves the concept, we’ll run with the ball.
  8. start the ball rolling, to put into operation; begin: The recreation director started the ball rolling by having all the participants introduce themselves.


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


  1. a spherical or nearly spherical body or massa ball of wool
  2. a round or roundish body, either solid or hollow, of a size and composition suitable for any of various games: football, golf, billiards, etc
  3. a ball propelled in a particular way in a sporta high ball
  4. any of various rudimentary games with a ballto play ball
  5. cricket a single delivery of the ball by the bowler to the batsman
  6. 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
  7. any more or less rounded part or protuberancethe ball of the foot
  8. slang a testicleSee balls
  9. vet science another word for bolus
  10. horticulture the hard mass of roots and earth removed with the rest of the plant during transplanting
  11. ball of muscle Australian a very strong, fit, or forceful person
  12. have the ball at one’s feet to have the chance of doing something
  13. keep the ball rolling to maintain the progress of a project, plan, etc
  14. on the ball informal alert; informed
  15. play ball informal to cooperate
  16. set the ball rolling or start the ball rolling to open or initiate (an action, discussion, movement, etc)
  17. the ball is in your court you are obliged to make the next move


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


  1. a social function for dancing, esp one that is lavish or formal
  2. informal a very enjoyable time (esp in the phrase have a ball)

“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.


  1. A spherical object or mass.
  2. A bezoar.
  3. A large pill or bolus.

Make an error; miss an opportunity. For example, She really dropped the ball when she forgot to call back, or He dropped the ball, turning down their offer. This expression comes from sports where a player who fails to catch a ball is charged with an error. Its use for more general kinds of mistakes dates from about 1950.

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
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