Did your boss tell you you’re ‘behind the eight ball’ on a project? This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.
The expression ‘behind the eight ball’ means that you’re in a challenging position that’s difficult to escape. If you can’t find a solution or there is no obvious way to solve the problem, you’re behind the 8 ball and in trouble. The phrase is similar to the financial saying ‘behind the curve.’
“We’re behind the eight ball here, people. It’s time to get up to speed and ensure we’re on top of everything by the end of the week.”
“Wow, Gary. You’re really behind the eight-ball on this one, huh? I think you need to go and research the topic before you start contributing to the conversation.”
“We’re behind the eight ball with our monthly deliveries. We will need to step up production to meet the quarterly target.”
“We’re behind the eight ball here. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this situation without causing huge problems for everyone else.”
“The Federal Reserve is behind the eight ball with monetary policy. They should have started lifting rates in early 2021, not the beginning of 2022.”
“The Biden presidency is behind the eight ball on almost every government policy decision. This administration has to be one of the worst in history.”
“He’s behind the eight ball with it, and I don’t think he’s going to escape it this time. He should have started treatments months ago, and now he’s paying the price.”
The expression ‘behind the 8 ball’ originates from the game of pool. Traditional pool involves the players sinking ‘stripes’ or ‘solids’ before sinking the eight ball to win the game. Hitting the eight ball with the cue ball at any other stage of the game other than to win will result in a penalty shot to the other player that may cost them the game.
Therefore, if the player finds themselves ‘behind the eight ball,’ they are in a difficult position. They will need a high skill level to escape the situation without giving away a penalty shot. The first appearance of ‘behind the 8 ball’ in writing comes from a Wisconsin newspaper, ‘The Sheboygan Press,’ in December 1929, where it appears as follows.
“Bill [‘Lucky’ Bill McKechnie, manager of the Boston Braves] figures he can finish behind the eight ball with any kind of a ball team, so there’s no harm in trying out young talent as there’s nothing to lose beyond last place.”
Legendary pool player ‘Minnesota Fats’ titled his autobiography ‘Behind The Eight Ball.’
Phrases Similar to Behind the 8 Ball
- Behind the curve.
- Behind the times.
Phrases Opposite to Behind the 8 Ball
- On top of things.
- On it.
What is the Correct Saying?
- Behind the 8 ball.
- Behind the eight ball.
Ways People May Say Behind the 8 Ball Incorrectly
The expression ‘behind the 8 ball’ means you’re in a disadvantageous position in life. It doesn’t refer to the game’ pool,’ although that’s the origin of the saying. It’s more common for people to use ‘behind the 8 ball’ in text messages and ‘behind the eight ball’ in other written communications.
Acceptable Ways to Phrase Behind the 8 Ball
You can use the expression ‘behind the 8 ball’ to describe situations where you’re facing a difficult escape. The phrase also suits situations where you’re ‘behind the curve’ and need to catch up to others in a task, activity, or conversation. The term serves professional and social use.
For instance, at work, you could say the manager is behind the 8 ball because they took the last two weeks off and don’t know the recent occurrences in the business. Or you could say your friend is behind the 8 ball to describe how they painted themselves in a corner in a challenging problem.