What Does Balling the Jack Mean?

Balling the Jack Meaning

Definition: Making a train go as fast as possible; dancing wildly; risking everything on a single attempt, especially when gambling with dice.

Origin of Balling the Jack

This expression originated around the early 1900s. In the year 1913, there was a popular song named Ballin’ the Jack. There was a dance that went along with the song, and many different artists have recorded or danced to this song over time. The song involved hip gyrations and other specific steps.

Railroad workers also used the expression to describe a train moving at top speed. They may have adopted this expression from the song. From this usage, people began to use the expression to mean doing any manner of things quickly.

The origin of the idiom with the meaning of risking everything on one attempt is unclear. However, it may come from bocce, a sport that has balls and jacks.

Examples of Balling the Jack

ball the jack meaningTwo friends are playing a game of poker.

Dan: I’m going to raise.

Kira: I’m going all in.

Dan: Wow! Are you sure you want to risk everything?

Kira: Of course I’m sure. I’m balling the jack!

Dan: Okay. Show your cards.

Kira: Royal flush! I win!

ballin the jackThe following example involves two women watching an old movie.

Gertrude: Have you seen this movie?

Ruby: No. What’s it called?

Gertrude: For Me and My Gal. It’s from the year 1942. It’s got Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in it, two of my favorite stars. It’s a shame they’ve both passed away. I love watching them balling the jack. There’s a wonderful dance number for that song in this movie.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a famous actor’s dance, which shares its name with this idiom.

  • And the third heresy arises from Mr. Fairchild’s performance of Gene Kelly’s famous “Ballin’ the Jack” solo, but the heresy is about Kelly: I prefer Mr. Fairchild. –New York Times

This excerpt is from a story that uses colloquialisms from East Texas.

  • “That little ole banty come drivin up for her in a black sedan of some kind longer’n the Katy Locomotive and they went off ballin the jack in a cloud of black Charity dust.” –Texas Monthly


The phrase balling the jack is an expression that can refer to a song and dance from the year 1913, doing something at top speed, or risking everything on one attempt.