What Does Keep the Ball Rolling Mean?

Keep the Ball Rolling Meaning

Definition: Keep an activity going.

In other words, keep the ball rolling means to continue a discussion, progress, or other action rather than stall or stop.

There are also the expressions get the ball rolling, get the wheels rolling, and get the wheels turning, all of which mean to get an activity started.

Origin of Keep the Ball Rolling

The expression calls to mind various sports in which players must keep a literal ball rolling in order to progress to victory. Some say, however, a much older use of the phrase referred to the sun and planets as rolling balls.

This expression keep the ball rolling is an American variation of an older British expression keep the ball up, which people used idiomatically as early as the 1700s to mean continue something.

In the United States, the rolling version of the expression became popular due to the presidential campaign of William Harrison in the year 1840. He won the election but is most notable because he died just 31 days into his presidency.

While he was running for election, his staff created large spheres (taller than most men), which were rolled through the streets. The balls advertised Harrison for president, and staff encouraged supporters to push these balls through the streets while crying keep the ball rolling. The staff used this slogan to keep enthusiasm and support high for their candidate.

Examples of Keep the Ball Rolling

meaning of keep the ball rolling Here is an example of a teacher using the expression in a math class.

Teacher: Wow! You guys have answered the first five questions I’ve asked you correctly! Let’s keep the ball rolling. What’s the answer to number 6?

Student: 42?

Teacher: That’s correct! Way to go!

keep the ball rolling song In this example, two friends are discussing ideas for a party they want to throw.

Monica: Okay, we have a list of about ten ideas for the party. I’d like to get five more ideas.

Janice: Okay. What do you think the weather will be like tomorrow?

Monica: No, don’t allow yourself to get distracted! We’re almost finished. We just have to keep the ball rolling. For example, I think the party should have a beach theme. Now we have 11 of our 15 ideas. Now it’s your turn.

More Examples

This excerpt is about a man who wants to get a boxer to start boxing again. He isn’t sure how to get the process started, because the boxer isn’t interested.

  • “He says he enjoys retirement and promoting and won’t engage with us, even in a joking way, about coming back,” Espinoza said. “So I’m not sure how to get the ball rolling in regard to getting him back in the ring, but I’m not going to give up.” –LA Times

The second excerpt shows a food critic describing his walk through a restaurant.

  • I was pregnant with my first daughter [Adalia, 3] and I thought, “OK, I need to do something.” When you’re independent, you have to keep the ball rolling and consistently put out music … and throw yourself out there. –LA Times

Summary

The phrase keep the ball rolling means continue something already in progress.