Sunday, December 18, 2005

"Ballin' The Jack"
Sure, But What Does It Mean?!?

Mike Casey raised an interesting question the other day. What's "Ballin' the Jack" mean? We've heard it and sung it in tunes from the traditional "Wanderin'" to the Grateful Dead's "Easy Wind." Well ... here's a long-winded answer found via a Google search:

1 - origin: balling the jack is a phrase from the jargon of railroadsmen in the beginning of [the 20th] century in America and simply means going at top speed (highballing). The "jack" is the locomotive [a carry-over from when a "jackass" pulled the freight] and "ballin'" means to work fast or get rollin' [from the 19th century slang "highballin'"].

Balling the jack (and variants like balling or having a ball) later acquired other, non-railroad related meanings like having a wild good time (drinking), to move quickly, going flat out, dancing, having sexual relations in a vigorous way and in gambling circles of risking everything on a single throw of the dice or turn of a card and in general use risking everything on one attempt or effort.

2 - metaphor for having sex, see also balling the jack and grinding. Dave Vanderslice says: "Means literally: use a jack hammer, but also to have sex." Thanks to Dave Vanderslice for his contribution to the list;

3 - name of a once popular dance, dancestep. Gray "Grayotis" Martin writes: "Ball the Jack---also likely a juke joint dance, with a reference to the act of sexual intercourse. "Ball" in verb form, is a slang word for sex, in white and black lingo. [One post claims the dance pre-dates the railroad metaphor.]

3.1 - Southern Louisiana's John "JohnnyB" Bradford says: "The "eagle rock" and "ball and the jack" are 1940's dance moves. "First you put your two knees close up tight, then you sway 'em to the left. Then you sway 'em to the right, step around the floor kind of nice and light. Then you twist around and twist around with all your might, Stretch your lovin' arms straight out into space, Then you do the Eagle Rock with style and grace. Swing your foot way 'round then bring it back. Now that's what I call Ballin' the Jack."

4 - going fast, doing the best. Jesse Fowler adds: "I know that it meant going fast (especially on a freight train). Paul Simmons wrote: " Balling the jack can also be an early reference to having your hands (ball of your hands) on a Jackhammer and pushing down with a great effort. I've often heard the term used to mean that you're "working it hard" in whatever your doing. For example I've heard people working on road crews say, "you best be ballin' it and not just doggin' it"... or translated, "you should be working and not just doing the motions". Think of it more as an adjective rather than a verb."

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