"balls to the wall"

Douglas Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Feb 11 22:24:12 UTC 2006

>   "I doubt the truthfulness of the purported origin of the phrase.
>   1. No one has ever reported *"going ball to the wall." Even if such a
> form once existed, the pluralization, especially in the aggressive
> contexts in which the term is used, strongly implies a testicular
> reference.

"Ball to the wall" in the appropriate sense *can* be found, although I
haven't found it early. But there were different controls, including, I
think, separate throttles for multiple engines in some planes, so the
pluralization could be primordial.

Assuming Jesse Sheidlower et al. were quoted correctly, though, I would
assume that the etymology involving aircraft controls has some
substantiation, some paper trail or at least multiple independent oral
testimonials. Otherwise it's just a guess, and IMHO would/should have been
presented as such ... although it looks to me like a pretty good guess at
a glance. One alternative (less good, IMHO) guess would involve the use of
"ball to the wall" in baseball.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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