balls to the wall

From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search


A Cessna 172's throttle and mixture plungers, white and red "balls" respectively.
Throttle quadrant of a Boeing 747

Alternative forms[edit]


First attested in the 1960s in the context of aviation, in reference to ball-shaped grips on an aircraft's engine controls (typically throttle, prop pitch and fuel mixture). Pushing these "balls to the wall" would put the engine at maximum power.[1][2] Analogous to pedal to the metal.

Not related to the term balls-out, which refers to steam engine machinery.[3]

Not related to the vulgar sense of balls (testicles).


  • (file)


balls to the wall (not comparable)

  1. (US, idiomatic, slang) With maximum effort or commitment.
    Synonym: all out
    • 2006, Michael D. Brown, Testimony before the US Senate Homeland Security Committee:
      I told the staff...the day before the hurricane struck that I expected them to cut every piece of red tape, do everything they could, that it was balls to the wall, that I didn't want to hear anybody say that we couldn't do anything—to do everything they humanly could to respond.
    • 2021 November 1, Samantha Hissong, quoting Gordon Goner, “How Four NFT Novices Created a Billion-Dollar Ecosystem of Cartoon Apes”, in Rolling Stone[2]:
      “I always go balls to the wall,” founding Ape Gordon Goner tells Rolling Stone over Zoom.
    • 2023 June 15, Kat Moon, “Ashley Park’s Main Character Energy From ‘Joy Ride’ Is Here To Stay: ‘I’m Treating Myself Like A Lead Now’”, in Women's Health[3]:
      “Asian women on-screen, especially in America and Hollywood, have been so sexualized and fetishized for the benefit of other people’s stories or jokes,” Ashley says. “And we’re like, ‘We’re gonna go balls to the wall, further than anyone’s gone with Asian women.’”
  2. (US, idiomatic, slang) Full throttle; (at) maximum speed. [since the 1960s]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ balls to the wall”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, launched 2000.
  2. ^ Jesse Shiedlower (2006-02-10), “Balls in the Air”, in Slate[1]
  3. ^ David Wilton, Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends: The second of these alleged railroad phrases is the phrase balls to the wall, meaning [making] an all-out-effort. Like balling the jack, this phrase is often thought to have arisen from railroad work. The speed of the governor on train engines had round, metal weights at the end of the arms. As the speed increased, the spinning balls would rise — being perpendicular to the walls at maximum speed. But there is no evidence to support this story. No use of the phrase is known to exist prior to the mid-1960s, and all the early citations are from military aviation, not railroads.

Further reading[edit]