Let’s get the ball rolling
Posted: 25 June 2013 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Did this phrase arise from any particular sport? How far back does it go? I can’t find anything in OED when searching for the phrase other than a solitary instance in a quotation from 1996. Google Book Search suggested nothing between the arbitrary dates 1850-1950 but given the haphazard nature of that engine one can’t read anything into it.

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Posted: 25 June 2013 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Might it be from roulette? From what the croupier does, as he spins the wheel at the beginning of each betting cycle.

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Posted: 25 June 2013 12:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Check out “keep the ball rolling.” Here & Here

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Posted: 26 June 2013 03:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The first citation in the OED (third edition, 2008) is:

1770 J. Chew Let. 4 Apr. in Papers of Sir William Johnson (1931) VII. 524 And so the Ball is to be keept [sic] rolling.

I don’t put a lot of stock in the Phrase Finder article. The Hendrickson book cited is notoriously unreliable, to put it charitably. And as rugby didn’t develop until the mid-nineteenth century, it’s clearly not the sport that inspired the phrase. The Harrison/Tyler election campaign of 1840 is also not the origin, although that seems to have played a role in popularizing the phrase in the US.

Bandy, suggested by Phrase Finder, remains a possibility, but it could be just about any sport, including early versions of football/soccer. The phrase predates the modern game of roulette by a couple of decades, but I’m sure there were precursor gambling games that are possibilities. Identifying a specific sport at this point is pretty much a hopeless task.

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Posted: 26 June 2013 03:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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From Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, Volume XIV, 1905, page 444:

ORIGIN OF THE PHRASE, “KEEP THE BALL ROLLING.”
THOMAS J. BROWN, WAYNESVILLE.
<snip>
About the year 1840, it was the custom in some sections when a political campaign was on, to work off a surplus of enthusiasm by constructing a huge ball, say 8 to 12 feet in diameter, and covered, at least in some instances, with stout leather so it would stand a great deal of rough treatment. This ball was filled with most anything that would give bulk, and a proper degree of weight, and yet leave it somewhat pliable so as to save it from too much friction; then several persons would roll it along to a political convention. By the way, all large political meetings were called “conventions” in those days, and every man that went was a self-constituted delegate, or a pole raising, or even from one township or county to another when it would be rolled on to the next county by a relay of fresh enthusiastics.
I remember seeing a picture of one of these balls, more than fifty years ago, being rolled along, while the men were supposed to give utterance to the sentiment, “This ball we roll, with all our soul.”
<snip>

From The Graham Journal of Health and Longevity, Volume 5, Issues 1-25,[No. 16. Vol. Ill], AUGUST 3, 1839, page 263:

AN ANECDOTE.—JUST IN TIME.
A young physician having tried in vain to get into practice, at last fell upon the following expedient to set the ball rolling: He sprang upon his horse once a day, and drove at full speed through the village : after an absence of an hour he would return and carry with him some of his instruments—thinking if he could impress his neighbors with the opinion that he had practice, they would begin to place confidence in his ability....

[ Edited: 26 June 2013 04:03 AM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 27 June 2013 12:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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This is, of course, from brewing, where after the sweet wort had been pumped into the copper and the hops added, the brewmaster would say to his fellow workers: “OK, let’s get the boil roiling.”

:0)

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