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behind the eight ball American English Informal

Meaning: If you're behind the eight ball, you're in a difficult or dangerous position.

For example:

  • The economic recession has really put our new business behind the eight ball. Nobody's spending money.

  • Carlo is behind the eight ball now because his final exam is in two days and he still hasn't started studying for it.

Origin: From a version of pool in which the balls are numbered and must be potted in order. A player loses if he hits the black eight ball in first, so if the cue ball is "behind the eight ball" he's in a dangerous position.

Variety: This idiom is typically used in American English but may be used in other varieties of English too.

Quick Quiz:

The report is due tomorrow morning, and Nayomi is behind the eight ball because
  1. her computer crashed and she can't print it
  2. she's still waiting for a few pages to print
  3. it's after 8 o'clock and she isn't asleep yet

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