Yesterday I saw some of my colleagues sharing coffee and talk outside of a campus store. I bought something to consume and joined the three of them. Four professors sitting sipping morning beverages.
At one point one of the school vice presidents walked by. Tony, the least reserved of my colleagues, spotted the vp, rose from his chair, and shouted, Balls Out, within earshot of a number of undergraduates.
This startled me as I was under the impression that this expression had something of a risque origin, and probably not the kind of thing you yell to a university vice president mid morning. Then I thought, not at all for the first time, that I probably did not know what the phrase meant. This happens with increasing regularity of late. I read something on line or hear something and I either have no idea what it means, or suspect that what I thought it meant could not possibly be what it does. I received a note from an acquaintance about a year ago with lol as a peculiar and, in context, non sensical sign off. Why would this peripheral acquaintance write "lots of love". I asked around to someone with whom I can confide my ignorance and discovered that lol just means laughing out loud. A couple of days ago I was chatting on line when a friend signed off ttfn. I could not imagine what that was, so I looked it up and found out that it was a benign good bye. Ta Ta for Now.
So, yesterday after Tony shouted Balls Out to the veep, (and my other two cronies seemed to be unfazed), I kind of knew I had it wrong. This morning I looked it up in what is called the Urban Dictionary. Much of what appears in this dictionary is R or X rated, and while I have not been living under a rock, far removed from my regular word choices.
I think "urban" in urban dictionary is an interesting euphemism and inaccurate. I grew up in Brooklyn until I was a preteen, moved to suburban New York, and have lived for the last 31 years in Boston--not exactly a cornfield. Yet, it has seemed to me at various points in my life that people who have lived in cornfields were far more "urban" in terms of their esoteric street language than I was. The men and women I met when I went to Albany for school who were from the upstate New York country taught me a thing or two. A woman I know who grew up in Brooklyn and then went to school in the midwest told me that the gals from the prairie in her dormitory could spin a tale or two that would not be found in Dick and Jane readers. So the urban in urban dictionary is likely a misnomer.
This all said, I found out in the Urban Dictionary, that Balls Out has as its origin nothing vulgar. It means to go all out. The usage in the Urban Dictionary to explain the meaning goes like this. "I thought I would slack off in the class and get a B, but Harry went balls out and got an A."
Apparently the Vice President had given a speech to a group that had my colleague Tony as a member. In it, the veep referred to his days as a swimmer, when he asked his coach what strategy he should use when about to compete with a rival in a meet. The coach looked at him and shook his head. "No strategy," he said, "go balls out."
Tony was yelling Balls Out to affirm to the veep that he had heard his message and that the key to success might not be planning but to go balls out.
Right now Roger Federer is going balls out in his semi final match with Novak Djokivic. He is up a break in the fourth set having won 2 out of the first 3. Djokovic was down love forty, 1-4, but then he went balls out to give himself a chance. Knowing Djokovic the match will not be secure for Federer until the last point.
In sports, I think Balls Out is often the way to go. You have to use your head as well. When I was decent at tennis (and those days judging by a performance last night are way over) I used to love playing guys who tried to hit the ball as hard as they could all the time. Unless they were a full notch better than I was, I would always win because I'd let them gas themselves out and return most of the shots before they started missing. So Balls Out has to be complemented with strategy.
However, I do think that we might want to default to Balls Out assuming we tend to use our head on occasion. In life, love, sports, work,--effort and energy typically is the way to seize the day.
Federer has just won in four sets.