Did someone use the phrase ‘balls to the wall,’ and you’re wondering what it means?
While you might assume that ‘balls to the wall’ is vulgar in origin, it’s actually believed to originally have been a term used by pilots during the 1960s. It means “going all out,” “pushing to the limit,” or “with maximum commitment or effort.”
‘Balls to the wall’ is a slang phrase that means “with maximum effort or commitment.” When someone goes ‘balls to the wall,’ it means that they are going all out and pushing to the limit without any restraint or caution.
It is thought that ‘balls to the wall’ first appeared in the context of aviation during the 1960s. On the joystick and throttle of an aircraft, there are ball-shaped grips. When a pilot moves the ‘balls to the wall,’ it generates maximum power in the engine.
Interestingly, there is another phrase ‘balls out’ that means “at the fastest possible speed,” that actually doesn’t share a related etymology. While ‘balls to the wall’ comes from the world of aviation, ‘balls out’ is a phrase that is thought to come from locomotive controls.
It’s also worth noting that the use of the word ‘balls’ isn’t related to the slang term for testicles and instead refers to the ball-shaped grips on the joystick and throttle of an aircraft. Even though the etymology of this phrase is rather benign, many people assume that it is related to testicles, and the phrase, therefore, should be used with caution.
How would you use ‘balls to the wall’ in a sentence? Let’s look at some examples:
What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'balls to the wall'?
Here are some options:
‘Balls to the wall’ is a great phrase with a fascinating etymology– few people realize that this is a term that originally comes from mid-century aviation! That being said, you, unfortunately, do have to be careful choosing to use this phrase. Because the word ‘balls’ is a common slang word for testicles, the person you are talking to or someone overhearing you might assume that you are being vulgar in meaning when using this phrase.
Are you looking to learn more English phrases? If so, be sure to check out our idioms blog!