Ball Rolling – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did your boss ask you to get the ball rolling on a project? This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The expression ‘ball rolling’ has several formats. You could ‘get the ball rolling’ or ‘keep the ball rolling.’ The ball refers to an activity, action, or conversation, and ‘rolling’ describes taking action by starting or maintaining the pace of the activity.

If you ‘keep the ball rolling,’ you maintain the momentum in the task or conversation. If you get the ‘ball rolling’ you start the conversation or task. It’s a common expression and popular in the business world to describe projects or tasks.

Example Usage

“Let’s get the ball rolling with this project. Call Clair and ask her to contact the client and finalize the details before we begin.”

“Let’s get the ball rolling. I’ll start by telling you my weirdest fantasy, and you can do the same. I like to start a conversation in a shocking manner.”

“Let’s get the ball rolling on that application. The longer we wait, the more drama it’s going to cause. We need to start right away.”

“What do we need to get the ball rolling? Do you want me to call Tim and ask him what to do? If we wait any longer, it’s going to be a big issue.”

“Let’s get the ball rolling on that fire. The sun’s going down, and we need to get it going before we can’t see what’s happening around us.”

“Let’s get the ball rolling with dinner. It’s 4pm, so we should eat just after five if we start right now.”

“Can you call the supplier and ask them to get the ball rolling on that order? We need it here by Monday.”

“C’mon, let’s get the ball rolling in here. We’ll miss the opening act if we don’t leave in the next 30 minutes.”

Origin

The expression ‘to get the ball rolling’ originates from the United States. It’s the evolution of the British phrase, ‘keep the ball up.’ Both sayings have similar meanings. For instance, keep the ball rolling and keep the ball up have the same definitions, meaning to keep the activity going.

However, the US version is more flexible since it can refer to all stages of involvement. The first figurative use of the British expression was by philosopher Jeremy Bentham. He penned a letter to George Wilson in 1781, where the saying appears as follows.

“I put a word in now and then to keep the ball up.”

‘Keep the ball rolling’ originates from the US presidential elections in July 1840. President Harris credited his election to his supporters and the song they sang at his campaign rallies.

“Keep the ball rolling,

Don’t you hear from every quarter, quarter, quarter,

Good news and true,

That swift the ball is rolling on

For Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”

Phrases Similar to Ball Rolling

  • Get started.
  • The jump off.

Phrases Opposite to Ball Rolling

  • Not going anywhere.
  • Procrastination.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Get the ball rolling.

Ways People May Say Ball Rolling Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with rolling balls. In this case, the ball is a tack, activity, or conversation. Getting it ‘rolling’ requires you to expend energy by speaking to someone or completing an action.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Ball Rolling

You can use the phrase ‘get the ball rolling’ when you want to start a task, activity, or conversation. It’s a way of describing the starting point of something. It may be challenging to get the ball rolling or easy, depending on the context.

The phrase suits social and professional use. For example, you could tell a client that you’ll get the ball rolling on their credit application. Or you could tell your friend that you need to get the ball rolling and start the barbeque if you want to eat before it gets dark outside.

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