ball and chain


A ball and chain on display at the Sagalunds Museum in Kimitoön, Finland


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ball and chain (plural balls and chains)

  1. A heavy iron ball attached to a prisoner's leg by a chain as a means of restraint.
    • 1964, “The House of the Rising Sun”, performed by The Animals:
      Well, I got one foot on the platform / The other foot on the train / I'm goin' back to New Orleans / To wear that ball and chain
    • 1990, Mike Ness (songwriter), Social Distortion (band), “Ball and Chain”:
      Take away this ball and chain.
  2. (slang) One's wife, as a symbol of restraint.
  3. (figuratively) Anything that restricts one's freedom or opportunities.
    • 2011, John Bradley, Cadbury's Purple Reign: The Story Behind Chocolate's Best-Loved Brand
      Their business model of the 1920s and 1930s, which had catapulted the business to undreamt-of heights, had then turned into something of a ball and chain.