In Reply to: Highball posted by Jim Thomas on March 25, 2009 at 07:47:
: Highball - - - What is the origin?
: I've heard if described as an alcohol drink, and "high" being what you get form it, but it doesn't sound likely.
: Railroads have used Highball for years to mean "Take off" or "Go fast" or "Track open ahead". Before the days of hand-held radios, every railroad yard had a tall pole with a rope attached, like the configuration used to raise a flag. When the track was clear, or it was time to move on, they would raise a large red "ball", therefore, 'high ball'.
: But what was the first use?
: Where does the drink phrase come from?
: Did the railroads steal the idea?
: How old is the term?
"When the word "highball" appeared in 1898 ("ball" was a bartenders' slang for a glass in the 1890s, a "high ball," a tall glass) it meant a Scotch and soda...but soon "highball" meant any kind of whiskey and soda." "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982). Page 170. I haven't found a date on the railroad term "highballing." Mr. Flexner says "balling," mid-30s meaning to have a wild good time -- drinking, dancing and having sex -- was "influenced by the 1925 'balling the jack,' to move quickly,...and the railroaders use of 'highballing,' to go full speed." Page 455.
"Herb's Hot Box of Railroad Slang" by J. Herbert Lund (1975, Jay Herbert Publishing Co., Chicago) says, "In the early days a ball was raised on a trackside staff as a signal to 'proceed." Today , the signal is given by waving a hand or lamp in a high, wide semicircle." Page 16.