On the ball

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On the ball is an idiom that may be an abbreviated form of a slightly older phrase. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the meaning of the expression on the ball, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

On the ball describes someone who is efficient, someone who is talented, someone who is effective and can get things done. The idiom on the ball most probably comes from a sport involving a ball, but which sport is up for debate. It may be an abbreviated form of the phrase keep your eye on the ball, which admonishes the player to pay close attention and get things done. This phrase goes back to the 1800s. However, around the turn of the twentieth century, American sports writers referred to successful baseball pitchers as having a lot on the ball, meaning they were talented. In any case, by the 1930s the phrase on the ball became an idiom used in everyday conversation. It’s companion phrase get on the ball is an exhortation to pay attention and get something done.


Let’s get on the ball and get the Acheson property on River Street cleaned up. (The Times Herald)

There are people who do keep their sidewalks clean, and good for them, but to the rest of you: Let’s get on the ball and clean up our messy sidewalks. (The New York Daily News)

“Where other cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have taken this on they’ve done a better job in protecting their arts community, and we need to get on the ball,” she said. (The Austin Monitor)

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