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Terminology explanation

  1. Jul 26, 2010 #1

    Danger

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    Most of my friends, both on PF and in person, are accustomed to me using the phrase "balls-to-the-wall" to indicate a flat-out effort. It never occurred to me, until someone (in person) mentioned it earlier today, that it might be deemed offensive by some.
    I want to explain that there is no reference to genitalia implied. It's pilot terminology dating back to WWII.
    The throttle(s), mixture controls, and propellor pitch controls of almost all fighter and bomber aircraft resided on a pedestal. They were usually on a left-hand "quadrant" in a fighter or centrally in a bomber (so the co-pilot had equal access). The tops of the levers were spherical knobs referred to as "balls". The max setting for all of them was to the top of the slots, as close as possible to the firewall between the cockpit and the engine compartment. The throttle part should be self-explanatory, but I will explain for the benefit of ground-hogs that the mixture leans out or enriches the air:fuel ratio going through the carb. Flattening the pitch of the propellors is akin to downshifting a car to get that extra kick in the ***.
    So, basically, the term "balls-to-the-wall" translates as "firewall everything and hang onto your hat".
    If my usage of the phrase has offended anyone in the past, I offer my profound apologies. It just never occurred to me that it would be taken out of context, but on the other hand most readers of this are very young and/or non-pilots. I'll just have to get used to that fact and adjust my posts accordingly.
     
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  3. Jul 26, 2010 #2

    S_Happens

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    I always understood it to refer to the weighted balls of a mechanical governor in rotating equipment ("balls out" would be more applicable to the governor, although until just now I considered them equivalent). Very interesting.

    I've been chastised plenty of times for using either expression. Depending on who it comes from I will either explain it or ignore it completely.
     
  4. Jul 26, 2010 #3

    Astronuc

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    So to be technically correct, we have to say "knobs-to-the-firewall", or "knobs-to-the-bulkhead"?
     
  5. Jul 26, 2010 #4

    arildno

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    Yeah-yeah.
    Yet another engineer shouting on the top of his voice that "thrust", "screw", "balls-to-the-wall" and suchlike have no sexual connotations whatsoever.

    You don't impress me much..
     
  6. Jul 26, 2010 #5

    RonL

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    I have been a woodworker off and on all my life and in 2006 I learned that I need to be careful how I make conversation in the area of asking about wood, different generations change the meaning of words and if your out of touch you can get a redface.
     
  7. Jul 26, 2010 #6

    Danger

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    Give me your address. I can't slap you through the computer, so I'll have to mail it to you.

    SH, I've always wondered about the term "balls-out" because it didn't seem like a derivation of the aircraft terminology. It makes perfect sense in regard to a flyball governor. Thank you.

    Now, do we have to mention that the term "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey" refers to cannon ammunition? :biggrin:

    edit: By the bye, Arildno... that was probably the worst Shania Twain impression I've ever heard.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2010
  8. Jul 26, 2010 #7
    I agree. "Balls to the wall" is just the aviation equivalent of "pedal to the metal", or in this day and age "pedal to the carpet". There's nothing sexual about it...unless you're intentionally interpreting it that way...which I think is silly.
     
  9. Jul 26, 2010 #8

    arildno

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    Well, it sounded a bit S&M-like, dungeon type of stuff.

    I don't think such is silly, but rather scary...
     
  10. Jul 26, 2010 #9

    CRGreathouse

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    The :biggrin: means that you know that this is false, yes?
     
  11. Jul 26, 2010 #10
    From Wikipedia:

    It seems to make sense.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2010
  12. Jul 26, 2010 #11
    Sometimes it's just easier to avoid saying certain things because people will make assumptions that they assume are correct and it's too much of a hassle to explain it. 'Balls to the wall' doesn't sound too bad, but I accept that I'll probably never be able to say "niggardly".
     
  13. Jul 26, 2010 #12
    Fair enough, but for some it's just natural habit because of the time/conditions they lived in. The meaning of words and phrases change over time.
     
  14. Jul 26, 2010 #13
    I actually didn't know about the etymology of this idiom. Thanks for explaining.
     
  15. Jul 26, 2010 #14
    :rofl:

    Well Danger I've never heard this expression before your post and it was hard on the eyes until you explained it. So thanks for the explanation, because if someone used it when speaking to me I would've thought them to be a bit fresh and crude!
     
  16. Jul 26, 2010 #15

    Danger

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    Arildno has a somewhat peculiar sense of humour that takes some getting used to. He was joking, and I responded in kind. (You can test this for yourself; just see how much his eyes bug out if you call him a Norweed.)
    CRG (I'm too lazy to type out your whole bloody name)... Lancelot... I'm unfamiliar with the reference to naval ammo. The story always used to involve small wheeled ammo carts in use during the US civil war. In any event, the story was shown several years ago to be inaccurate. The true origin of the phrase is still a mystery.
    I sure as hell like saying it, though, particularly since I live in Alberta. I like to sneak into it, though. Several times I've stumbled into a bar, covered in snow, and told the nearest person that I'd just been trampled by a flock of brass monkeys running for shelter. That is usually greeted with a puzzled stare, whereupon I elaborate with "you are familiar, are you not, with the phrase 'cold enough to freeze... etc.' About 10% of the time, that earns me a chuckle, and that's good enough for me. (I have very low standards.)
    I think that Monique is PF's most gifted resident expert in linguistics. Perhaps she can impart some education regarding the phrase.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2010
  17. Jul 26, 2010 #16
    I'll have to try that sometime.

    Well howdy neighbour!
     
  18. Jul 26, 2010 #17

    Danger

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    :bugeye: So where are you? If you're a Yank and call me "neighbour" you must be in Montana, North Dakota, or the narrow bit of Idaho. (Oh, crap... I just noticed that you spelled "neighbour" correctly, so you must be a fellow Canuk.)
     
  19. Jul 26, 2010 #18

    Danger

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    Technically, yes... but those just don't resonate satisfactorily. There's a poetic fluidity to the English language, and those phrases don't quite fit in. They're accurate, but somehow disappointing.
     
  20. Jul 26, 2010 #19

    Char. Limit

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    I fixed it for you.
     
  21. Jul 26, 2010 #20

    Danger

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    :tongue:
     
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