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On a business website regarding the takeover of a radio station, I noticed this unusual phrase:

Can't really see Orion Media changing Gold much, unless Global take their ball home and say that if you don't want Heart you can't have Gold and take away the licensing deal.

What exactly does "take your ball and go home" mean? Is it a sporting metaphor?

Is it a good phrase to use in writing (that is, informal writing), or not?

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Be careful using this as it's accusing the ball taker of being unreasonable, unsporting and childish. –  user774 Feb 4 '11 at 12:50
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2 Answers

This refers to the childhood practice of playing a ball game with your friends, where the ball belongs to one of you. If the game doesn't go your way, you might get upset and leave, taking your ball with you, ending the game for everyone.

Essentially the quote is saying if Global withdraw from the deal, Orion Media will lose both Heart and Gold.

It's perfectly acceptable to use in informal writing.

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The UK equivalent is "take his bat home". –  Colin Fine Feb 2 '11 at 12:40
    
@Elendil: That is not germane to @Colin Fine's comment. Even if your (very subjective) statements were true, neither addresses his assertion. If "take his bat home" is the phrase he grew up hearing in the UK, I for one would be prepared to take his word for it. –  Robusto Feb 2 '11 at 13:39
    
Noted and deleted. –  user3444 Feb 2 '11 at 14:29
    
Haha - I was going to say that I'd never heard 'take his bat home' then ask if you were a Yorkshireman. I just checked your profile and you are. Sounds perfect in a Yorkshire accent. –  user774 Feb 4 '11 at 12:47
    
@Colin Fine: Presumably referring to cricket. –  Andrew Grimm Apr 28 '11 at 3:24
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When I was a schoolkid many years ago, some kids were just bad losers. We would play football in the park, and if their team was losing, they would take their ball and go home. It's the football equivalent of picking up the Monopoly board and throwing it across the room.

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Not exactly, it's not as bad. (1) you can "take the ball home" only if it's yours (usually), while you can mess up the board regardless of who's the owner; (2) if you "take the ball home", people still can resume the game with another ball, maybe at a later time; instead if you throw the board like that the game is no more resumable and you get punched repeatedly in the face. –  Lohoris Feb 2 '11 at 12:41
    
I think the big difference here is that "Taking your ball and going home" is not amoral. Also it is more commonly used as a threat. As in "we play the game i want or i am taking my ball and going home" I think the 'technical' term for the other one is "flipping the table" –  Andrey Feb 2 '11 at 16:18
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