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Gone for a ball of chalk

Posted by Graham Cambray on March 09, 2009 at 19:56

In Reply to: Gone for a ball of chalk posted by Dave Smitham on March 09, 2009 at 17:42:

: Anyone know the origin of 'gone for a ball of chalk'?


Yes, sort of. I'm not 100% sure of how the phrase developed, but here goes.

Originally, I think, Cockney rhyming sland for "walk". The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English has "Ball of Chalk (noun) - a walk. Rhyming slang, 1936.". It could be used "straight", in which case it would be clipped: "I'm going to take a ball into town". But "to go for a walk" could be used much as "to go out the window" or "to go down the drain" - today we might say "to go down the pan". "Go wrong" or maybe just "go" - something that had "gone for a walk" might simply not be there any more. But, most often, if something had "gone for a ball of chalk" then things had turned out badly.

In WW2, the RAF seems to have worked the phrase up. In its aircrew usage, things usually went "to" a ball of chalk - an alternative to "it's all gone to hell and a handbasket". So at "The Aircrew Dictionary Edition VI" ( we have:
"Ball of chalk: (sim.) A disorganised terrible mess. Eg: It's all gone to a ~. t i t s up, Clatter of bits, Rolling goat, Cluster fuck".
I think I hear the phrase most now in the sense of "things are not going well, so I'm leaving" (or giving up). "Sod this for a ball of chalk" (c.f. Sod this for a game of soldiers).

So I think this started of as rhyming slang, some time before 1936, but has sort of evolved from its original meaning. I've personally never heard it used in its earliest sense of "walk". (GC)

So, for "walk" substitute "ball of chalk"