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<The Origins of Phrases>

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posted on May, 27 2004 @ 07:31 AM
Balls to the wall

Meaning: To push to the limit, go all out, full speed.

Example: If you study balls to the wall from now on, you just might pass your algebra class.

Origin: A very colorful phrase, one needs to be careful when using "balls to the wall". Although its real origin is very benign, most people assume it is a reference to testicles.

In fact it is from fighter planes. The "balls" are knobs atop the plane's throttle control. Pushing the throttle all the way forward, to the wall of the cockpit, is to apply full throttle.


Early railroad locomotives were powered by steam engines. Those engines typically had a mechanical governor. These governors consisted of two weighted steel balls mounted at the ends of two arms, jointed and attached to the end of a vertical shaft that was connected to the interior of the engine. The entire assembly is encased in a housing.

The shafts and the weighted balls rotate at a rate driven by the engine speed. As engine speed increases, the assembly rotates at a faster speed and centrifugal force causes the weighted balls to hinge upward on the arms.

At maximum engine speed - controlled by these governors - centrifugal force causes the two weighted balls to rotate with their connecting shafts parallel to the ground and thereby nearly touching the sides - the walls - of their metal housing.

So, an engineer driving his steam locomotive at full throttle was going "balls to the wall". The expression came to be used commonly to describe something going full speed.

posted on May, 27 2004 @ 08:24 AM
Flying by the seat of your pants

Meaning: To do something without planning, to change course midstream, to figure things out as you go.

Example: Most stock investors are not making educated decisions, they are just flying by the seat of their pants.

Origin: Before airplanes had sophisticated instruments and flight control systems, and even today, planes are piloted by feel. Pilots can feel the reactions of the plane in response to their actions at the controls.

Being the largest point of contact between pilot and plane, most of the feel or feedback comes through the seat of the pants.

If you are "flying by the seat of your pants" your are responding to the feedback received.

posted on May, 27 2004 @ 12:27 PM
The cold shoulder

Meaning: An unfriendly reception.

Example: I asked my friends to loan me money but was met with the cold shoulder.

Origin: The shoulder of beef is a less desirable cut. Serving a cold piece of beef shoulder to your guests is a not so subtle message that they are not welcome in your home.

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