ball and chain
A ball and chain.Licensed from iStockPhoto
Webster's New World College Dictionary Copyright © 2010 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio.
a metal ball fastened by a chain to a prisoner's body to prevent escape
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
ball and chain - Phrases/Idioms
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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.