ball and chain

noun
1.
a heavy iron ball fastened by a chain to a prisoner's leg.
2.
a burdensome restraint: The steady accumulation of small debts was a ball and chain to his progress.
3.
Facetious Slang: Often Offensive. a person's spouse or romantic partner, especially a female.

Origin:
1825–35, Americanism


In the meaning “romantic partner,” this term is consciously used for humorous or playful effect. But it is often perceived as insulting, implying that the partner is a burden or restriction on the other partner.
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World English Dictionary
ball and chain
 
n
1.  (formerly) a heavy iron ball attached to a chain and fastened to a prisoner
2.  a heavy restraint
3.  slang a wife

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

ball and chain

A burden and restraint, as in Karen regarded her job as a ball and chain, but she needed the money. The term, dating from the early 1800s, alludes to chaining a heavy iron ball to a prisoner's leg. Later it was transferred to other kinds of restraining burden.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
Others had to wear a ball and chain or were put in the stocks.
The ball and chain was riveted around a prisoner's ankle.
Carr will probably bo kept hereafter with a ball and chain attached to him.
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