Going balls deep

Balls deep

I haven’t been able to track down exactly when the expression was coined, but, in the Google Books corpus, anyway, balls deep first rears its head in 1988, from FirstHand magazine: “Within seconds I was stuffed balls-deep into his tight hole.”

No ambiguity there. This sexual sense of balls deep—where your penis is so far in someone (or something) that it can’t possibly go any further—was common in gay erotica and later spread to mainstream usage.

Yet, also in 1988, in the Canadian Alpine Journal, we see the other sense of balls deep: “At 3 am we tromp across the snow covered moraine only to plunge balls-deep in the unfrozen soup. A chorus of bitching rises into the dark…”

Of these two literal senses, the first dominates, although you see the second enough—as in this Reddit thread about standing balls deep in water and the lyrics “You’re balls deep in muddy waters” from Tool’s “The Pot”—that it still seems intuitive.

Figuratively, judging by the Corpus of Web-based Global English (GloWbE), balls deep is more evenly split between “all in” or “fully committed” (e.g., “I am going for it, balls deep… and if I get heart-broken you will read about it…”), derived from the sexual sense, and “inescapably mired” or “overwhelmed” (e.g., “The whole peninsula is balls deep in cops now”), which is semantically closer to the other sense. Sometimes the distinction isn’t so clear: Does “He was balls deep in his project” convey commitment? Stress? Both?

This bit of ambiguity may be why the term has proliferated—as movie and album titles and band names—largely unchecked by censors. Why not give your endeavour a risqué name, when you can, with both a straight face and tongue firmly in cheek, claim you meant nothing sexual?

14 thoughts on “Going balls deep

  1. hotmessmemoir January 12, 2016 / 4:29 am

    I’m going to go with option B. Why? If we went with option A, the terminology would then be dick deep/penis deep…..whatever you want to call it. It just doesn’t have the same ring.


    • Some background to the piece ... cheers January 12, 2016 / 4:39 am


      Liked by 2 people

      • hotmessmemoir January 12, 2016 / 5:17 am

        Yes, I looked it up to ensure it wasn’t the wine. It’s a saying; it just doesn’t sound as good= doesn’t have the same ring. I take it you are not from the states?


      • Nancy Friedman January 12, 2016 / 3:24 pm

        Perhaps “Some Background to the Piece…Cheers” was thinking (as I was) of this.

        Liked by 1 person

      • hotmessmemoir January 12, 2016 / 6:04 pm

        Well i feel like a dumb ass. Hilarious!


  2. Brittany January 12, 2016 / 4:57 am

    I love this phrase, and use it whenever I can. I have most certainly gotten some strange looks for the times I’ve used it in a first-person sense, because I’m a woman, but whatever. I try to be mindful to only use it around people I’m really comfortable with and vice versa, but hey, sometimes it slips. I most often tend to use it with a meaning similar to “deeply engaged” that also conveys a sense of “overwhelmed”. Like, “I’ve been balls deep in this spreadsheet all morning.” But, I’ve also used it in other scenarios where it’s pretty much literal. Like, “Matt can’t hang out with us because he’s balls deep in that chick he’s seeing.” I guess in that one it applies in both a literal and figurative sense, really. It’s a surprisingly versatile phase. Glad it’s stuck around! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Stan Carey January 12, 2016 / 9:02 am

    “with both a straight face and tongue firmly in cheek”

    NB: Emphasising it as “with tongue balls deep in cheek” may generate some confusion.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mark Kevin Smith January 12, 2016 / 10:36 am

    I have no choice but to go with the one on the left, hey that’s just how I think. Hope my wife does not see this reply.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Janet Coburn January 12, 2016 / 3:26 pm

    I often hear “balls to the wall,” meaning “flat out” or “enthusiastically engaged,” as in a performance of a song, but I’m unable to picture how this would look.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. John Roch (@JohnDRoch) March 30, 2016 / 2:53 pm

    Way back at the time of the Profumo scandal (UK, early 60s) there was a silly riddle on the lines of

    Q If Christine Keeler is up to her tits in champagne, where’s John Profumo?
    A Up to his balls in cider.


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