just an expression I heard from a guy on a tutorial on derivatives in calculus.

Edit: guys thanks all of you for replying, yeah the thing is that is misheard the phrase, somebody already corrected me, the right phrase was" to get to the nuts and bolts of something".

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a misunderstood phrase which has no meaning as written in the question. – user3169 Nov 3 '14 at 22:58
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    But you have to admit it was kind of a hilarious misunderstanding. – Jason Patterson Nov 4 '14 at 1:10
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    @user3169 I think it's on-topic. It's a forum based upon people learning the English language, I wouldn't expect people to ask the meaning of exact word-for-word phrases every question. It's part of our duty to help interpret and explain it, in my opinion. – Henry F Nov 4 '14 at 3:05

You misheard. It should be 'nuts and bolts'. Does that help?

If not, here is one definition: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/nuts+and+bolts

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    Did you just guessed that he misheard it, based on your knowledge of the correct wording or did you somehow know which tutorial he listened to? In any way +1 – print x div 0 Nov 4 '14 at 8:13
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    @AndroidRookie - It was a confident guess (later confirmed as correct by the OP). In similar answers in future, I'll write "Are you sure you heard it correctly?" rather than "You misheard". – tunny Nov 4 '14 at 8:25

You probably misheard, in which case the phrase should have been "nuts and bolts", as others have already said. However, if the speaker is of a particular mindset, and especially if they are British, there is a chance that this was done deliberately. It is not uncommon to take a well known phrase and vulgarize it by replacing prominent words with swear words, especially if they sound similar to the words replaced or form a pleasing rhyme. If the original phrase is well known then the modified phrase will be understood, typically with the same meaning, even if the phrase created appears meaningless or off-topic.

One common substitution, unlikely to cause much offense today, is

"odds and ends" -> "odds and sods"

The first version brings to mind a drawerful of unpaired items and off-cuts, while the second version has little meaning. The real value in the second form of the expression is in its vulgarity - something many Brits (and indeed, most non-American Anglophones) relish. In your particular case, it is possible that the speaker intentionally made the substitution:

"nuts and bolts" -> "nuts and balls"

expecting it to be understood as the former, but taking some satisfaction in the fact that both "nuts" and "balls" are slang terms for "testicles".

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    +1 for the possibility that the OP didn't misheard the expression – print x div 0 Nov 4 '14 at 8:15
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    +1 for explicitly mentioning that both "nuts" and "balls" mean "testicles". – A E Nov 4 '14 at 16:58
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    This is exactly what I was thinking, I do this all the time (vulgarize an expression). – Kik Nov 4 '14 at 21:44
  • It's a tutorial on derivative calculus. Aka it's college kids. Guaranteed it was intentional, and was probably hil-ar-ious when they came up with it. – corsiKa Nov 4 '14 at 22:09
  • hahaha nope, it was actually a tutorial from a series called math tutor, the guy is actually an adult teacher and the thing is that i misheard the expression :D. – user228424 Nov 5 '14 at 21:03

I'm going to assume that you have misheard the phrase. A similar one is "the nuts-and-bolts". This phrase is used when one wants to describe the inner workings of something.


View the source code to see the nuts-and-bolts of the application.

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It's entirely likely that the phrase "nut and balls" was deliberate and not (at least solely) vulgar. The word "ball" has a very specific meaning to mathematicians, it describes the local neighborhood of a point.

In the context of calculus to get to the "nut and balls" would mean to really closely examine the local behavior, which is really what a derivative does.

Edit to clarify:

It is plausible that a mathematician with a slightly off sense of humor combined the phrase "to get to the nuts and bolts" with the mathematical notion of a topological ball in a slightly off-color joke about what it really means to take a derivative. This wasn't a great joke, since I'm sure the intended audience wasn't familiar with the notion of a ball, but it is sensical.

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  • It's true that ball has a mathematical meaning, but nut does not so far as I know. I am a mathematician, and I have never heard any of my colleagues say anything remotely like nuts and balls. It would not convey any technical meaning, it would just sound vulgar. – Nate Eldredge Nov 5 '14 at 2:53
  • Edited to somewhat clarify my answer regarding Nate's comment. My contention is pretty much that the author of the video may have been making a joke (to themselves). They could also have said "nuts and bolts" and been misunderstood. – Joe Manlove Nov 5 '14 at 16:35

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