‘Balls to the Wall’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on February 27, 2023

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.”

What Does 'Balls to the Wall' Mean?

‘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.

Where Does 'Balls to the Wall' Come From?

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.

Examples of 'Balls to the Wall' In Sentences

How would you use ‘balls to the wall’ in a sentence? Let’s look at some examples:

  • “I’m absolutely dying to go to the concert. When I start dancing, I’m not going to hold back– balls to the wall.”
  • “His mother was worried he was going to hurt himself out there on the court. He was so amped up during the game– completely balls to the wall– that she was concerned he wasn’t thinking clearly.”
  • “A lot of people see me chillin all the time, and they assume I’m lazy. When I’m really focused on something, though, I’m absolutely balls to the wall.”
  • Alright, everyone, it’s time to go balls to the wall. This is where the rubber meets the road, and we need to make sure that we give it all we’ve got.”
  • “I’m choosing Tim to join our team. I know this might surprise you because John has more experience. We need someone to really go balls to the wall here, though, and I’m worried that John is simply too risk-averse to be able to take on the task.”
  • “Wow, I’ve hardly ever had more fun in my entire life. You should have seen us out there, and it was balls to the wall!”

Other Ways to Say 'Balls to the Wall'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'balls to the wall'?

Here are some options:

  • All out
  • Full throttle
  • Pedal to the metal
  • Full bore
  • Full steam
  • Flat out
  • At maximum speed
  • Full blast
  • Full force

Final Thoughts on ‘Balls to the Wall’

‘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!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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