play hardball

hardball

[hahrd-bawl]
noun
1.
baseball, as distinguished from softball.
adjective
2.
tough or ruthless: He wasn't ready for the hardball politics of Washington.
3.
outspoken, challenging, or difficult: Reporters asked the president some hardball questions.
Idioms
4.
play hardball, to act or work aggressively, competitively, or ruthlessly, as in business or politics.

Origin:
1825–35; hard + ball1

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
hardball (ˈhɑːdbɔːl)
 
n
1.  (US), (Canadian) baseball as distinct from softball
2.  informal chiefly (US), (Canadian) play hardball to act in a ruthless or uncompromising way

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

play hardball

Act aggressively and ruthlessly, as in It's only a month before the election, and I'm sure they'll start to play hardball. This term originated in baseball, where it alludes to using the standard ball as opposed to the slightly larger and minimally softer ball of softball. It was transferred to describe aggressive behavior only in the 1970s.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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