General English

  • noun a round object used in playing games, for throwing, kicking or hitting


  • noun in an inclinometer, the round object which indicates if a turn is coordinated

Cars & Driving

  • noun a spherical part, e.g. in a ball bearing or a ball and socket joint


  • noun the hard leather-covered ball with which the bowler attacks the batsman’s wicket in cricket.
    See also Duke ball, Kookaburra ball, SG ball
  • noun a delivery of the ball by the bowler
    Citation ‘Hogan, the difficult nightwatchman, hooked the day’s second ball to mid-wicket’ (Tony Cozier, Cricketer January 1984)
    Citation ‘Malcolm blasted out three South Africans in his first two overs … Then, in 10 balls interrupted by the tea interval, he fired out three more batsmen before mopping up the tail’ (Vic Marks, Observer 21 August 1994)
    Citation ‘After that, he cut loose and scored fifty-nine more in thirty balls, with nine fours and two sixes’ (Purandare 2005)
  • noun a particular type of delivery, especially one that forms a standard part of a bowler’s repertoire
    Citation ‘I have always been impressed with Marshall, although it is a pity he bowls so many short-pitched balls’ (Sir Len Hutton, Observer 1 July 1984)
    Citation ‘The leg-break delivered with a slight round-arm action became his stock ball to the right-hander, and there was a faster ball which went with the arm’ (Bose 1990)
    Citation ‘The only casualty of the extra period was Clarke, bamboozled by Harmison’s rare slower ball’ (Steven Lynch, Wisden 2006)


  • noun the soft part of the hand below the thumb
  • noun the soft part of the foot below the big toe


  • noun a spherical object (normally used in sport)
  • noun standard bullets for a rifle, machine-gun or pistol


  • noun a stupid and/or obnoxious person. The slang for testicle has also been used as an insult by British junior-school pupils.
  • verb to have sex (with). An American term which, apart from a brief vogue in the hippy era, has rarely been used in Britain or Australia. Originally an item of black argot, it gained wider popularity in the early 1960s and, as its anatomical origin suggests, is generally a male usage.
  • verb to behave in a boisterous, fun-loving and uninhibited way; to ‘have a ball’. The term usually implies dancing, but also a degree of Bacchanalian, even orgiastic revelry far beyond that signified by the standard English (hunt or charity) ball.
  • verb to play basketball


  • noun an object, usually round in shape and often hollow and flexible, used in many games and sports in which it is thrown, struck or kicked

Origin & History of “ball”

there are two distinct words ball in English. The ‘round object’ (13th c.) comes via Old Norse böllr from a prehistoric Germanic *balluz (source also of bollock (OE), originally a diminutive form). A related form was Germanic *ballōn, which was borrowed into Italian to give palla ‘ball’, from which French probably acquired balle. Derivatives of this branch of the family to have reached English are balloon (16th c.), from French ballon or Italian ballone, and ballot (16th c.), from the Italian diminutive form ballotta (originally from the use of small balls as counters in secret voting). The Germanic stem form *bal-, *bul- was also the ultimate source of English bowl ‘receptacle’.

The ‘dancing’ ball (17th c.) comes from French bal, a derivative of the now obsolete verb bal(l)er ‘dance’, which was descended via late Latin ballāre from Greek ballízein ‘dance’. Related words in English include ballad(e) (14th c.), which came via Old French from Provençal balada ‘song or poem to dance to’, and ballet.