Highball — (definition has railroad ties)

October 13, 2013

___ When we say Highball , we may refer to “highballing it!” or sipping a Highball in grand leisure. Both definition roots are tied to railroad history.

HighballCollinsDictionary.com defines “Highball” as:
noun
1. a long iced drink consisting of a spirit base with water, soda water, etc

2. (originally in railway use) a signal that the way ahead is clear and one may proceed

verb
3.
intr to move at great speed

4. tr to drive (a vehicle) at great speed

Railroad ties — railroad track workers
CatskillArchive.com has a “Glossary of Railroad Lingo” page, reference via the book Railroad Avenue by Freeman H. Hubbard (Whittlesey House, McGraw-Hill, 1945). Here it echoes the Highball meaning among men who worked the railroads:

HIGHBALL … “Signal made by waving hand or lamp in a high, wide semicircle, meaning ‘Come ahead’ or ‘Leave town’ or ‘Pick up full speed.’

“Verb highball …  means to make a fast run. Word highball originated from old-time ball signal on post, raised aloft by pulley when track was clear.”

Okay, so railroad workers checked a ball on a signal post. If the ball was high, the coast was clear for locomotives to “highball it.”

Railroad ties — inside the train
A Wikepedia.org article featuring “Highball” cites historical references from inside the train, specifically the dining car where a hardy libation might be served while the train engineer suddenly “highballs it.”

According to the article: “[Highball] may refer to the practice of serving drinks in the dining cars of trains powered by steam locomotives, when the engine would get up to speed and the ball that showed boiler pressure was at its high level, known as ‘highballing.’

As for Highball drink namesake, the Wikepedia article suggests it might be from “ball” known as a drink of whiskey, and “high” as ’twas served in tall glasses.  Hm. Such a glass would make sense for serving a libation while a train goes full speed ahead. A fancy, long-stem glass would tip.

“Highballing it” — modern day
Crazy that in modern day, “Highball” still references the drink, and historical railroad influence. Nowadays, when someone “highballs it” they are pushing speed for a clear road ahead, to “pick up full speed” or “leave town.”

And folks sipping Highballs are palming tall glasses that won’t tip, whatever comes about.
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This Jacquée T. Writer in Residence Word of the Day is brought to you by Mary Rose Enderle and Richard Bogenrife in honor of the Leavenworth Kansas Veterans Affairs Hospital.

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