Farley Dunn

Balls to the Wall

“Balls to the Wall”- Have you ever heard this phrase, used to describe an overachieving action? Similar to: going for broke, outdoing yourself, all out, or at a breakneck pace.

This phrase has nothing to do with the male physique. During the Industrial Revolution, large, industrial, single-piston steam engines had mechanical governors mounted on an exterior, vertical spinning bar. These consisted of heavy brass balls mounted on a sliding piston-type mechanism. As the machine sped up, the bar spun faster, causing the brass balls to ‘expand’ away from the central spinning bar. At full speed the brass balls would be fully extended to the walls, hence, today, we can still say someone is going ‘balls to the wall’ when they are driving excessively fast, working to meet a deadline, or participating in a high-adrenalin extreme sport.