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"Balls to the wall"


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Today I learned that the phrase "balls to the wall" originated with fighter pilots. In WWII (and maybe earlier) some plane throttles ended in a ball shape. "Balls to the wall" was a phrase that meant pushing the throttle all the way forward, towards the firewall.


You can look up the P-40's throttle as just one example of the shape.


Some of you might have known this already, but I didn't!

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I always used to hear that "the whole nine yards" originated from nine yards of belt fed ammunition on aircraft machine guns.  But it pre-dates WWII, and first appears in print in 1907.  That means that it was probably floating around in speech since at least the 1890s.


And it also means that the second machine gun theory, a British Vickers, is out too.  The Vickers went into service in 1912.




The best explanation I've heard so far is that it's related to standard lengths of fabric, used in the garment industry, which were usually cut into lengths of 3, 6 or 9.


Or, that it means nothing.  And that it's just a turn of phrase, like "the whole shebang".  Though, in the 1870s, I think "shebang" referred to a vehicle.




So who knows...

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