balling the jack

No sooner were we out of town than Eddie started to ball that jack ninety miles an hour out of sheer exuberance.

--Jack Kerouac, On The Road, 19571

Balling the jack is a US slang term meaning to go fast or make haste. The phrase comes from the name of a lively 1913 ragtime dance tune, Ballin’ the Jack, by Jim Burris and Chris Smith.2 The phrase appears in the lyrics of several songs of that decade and by the mid-1920s was being used in general speech, especially among railroadmen, as in this citation recorded c.1925 in Barbour County, West Virginia:

The car certainly did ball the jack.3


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