Behind the Eight Ball

Meaning of “Behind the Eight Ball”

The phrase “behind the eight ball” means a person is in a bad situation. He or she cannot escape. It also means that the person is hard-pressed to stay where he is until a solution is offered. The phrase is also used to warn people who are knowing or unknowingly making bad choices.

Origin of “Behind the Eight Ball”

The phrase “behind the eight ball” seems to have originated from the game of billiard. The phrase is stated to have been used by The New York Times as early as in 1931 with reference to the tight spot or the situation in which victory is impossible. However, another newspaper, The Sheboygan Press, has used it even before The New York Times in 1929. It goes thus; “Bill figures he can finish behind the eight ball with any kind of a ball team, so there’s no harm in trying out young talent as there’s nothing to lose beyond the last place.” Since then, it has been used in the same meanings of a tight spot from where it is difficult for a person to extract himself.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Let That Be a Lesson to You by Louis Armstrong

Oh, Columbus was the discoverer of America
And he sailed the sea in 1492
But the good Queen Isabella
Found a more attractive fella
And Columbus wound up in the junkeroo
Oh, let that be a lesson to you
Everybody meets his Waterloo
He wasn’t too big to end up behind the eight ball
And remember, buddy, there’s still lots of room for you

The song starts describing one of the greatest events in history with the fictionalized version. The singer tells how and when Columbus discovered America. Columbus wanted to prove that he was a great discoverer. However, the Queen found another person to replace him. The singer encourages his listener to be positive unlike Columbus who found himself “behind the eight ball”. The singer also added that there is ‘lots of room’ which means plenty of opportunities.

Example #2

Idioms in the News – 1,000 Phrases, Real Examples by Peter Bengelsdorf

“Financial advisors say they’re seeing an increasing number of workers and new retirees with no savings and no plan to dig out of debt. “There are a lot of more people behind the eight wall,” says Joel Redmond, a financial planner for Key Private Bank in Syracuse, N. Y.” (Courtesy USA Today, April 12, 2011).

Peter Bengelsdort cited this paragraph from USA Today to prove his point that the phrase is commonly used for tight situations or tight spots where a person is trapped. This paragraph shows that the phrase has been used to show the difficult and unescapable situation of the people facing the financial crunch. Since a lot of seniors do not have savings they do not see a way out of the debts.

Example #3

Behind the 8-Ball: A Recovery Guide for the Families of Gamblers by Linda Berman M. S.W., Mary-Ellen Siegel M. S.W.

This interesting book by Linda Berman and Mark-Ellen Siegel talks about gambling and its dangerous impacts. Gambling not only curbs financial but also legal freedom. Most gamblers lose assets of their entire lives once they start going on this path. This book is a practical guide to correct the compulsive behavior of such gamblers. The use of this phrase is apt, for gamblers do not find anything to come out of the mess created by gambling.

Example #4

Excerpt from Article – Reuters, January 27, 2011.

Chrysler’s…2010 lineup ranks last in terms of fuel economy among major automakers, according to Environmental Protection Agency. “They’re behind the eight ball and technology keeps changing.”

These lines occur in a report published in Reuters in January 2011. The report is about the automakers and their situation when the environmentalists are after them. It says that they are in a tight spot due to carbon emission and the role of vehicles in increasing this emission. The phrase has been used to show that they have no way out except to reduce carbon emission and stop manufacturing vehicles using fossil fuels.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “Henry has been gambling for years and now he lost most of his savings. It means that he is clearly behind the eight ball. And interesting thing is that he cannot extricate himself from it.”

Example #2: “Paula is hiding herself from others as if she is behind the eight ball. She has to overcome her public fear.”

Example #3: “When facing his creditors, Virgil feels that he is like standing behind the eight ball.”

Example #4: “If you write the exam without proper preparation, you will be behind the eight ball. You won’t get the good scores and may lose your scholarship hopes.”

Example#5: “If all the countries start using nuclear weapons, no one is safe. Everyone will be behind the eight ball because there is no way out.”