a bag made of thin rubber or other light material, usually brightly colored, inflated with air or with some lighter-than-air gas and used as a children’s plaything or as a decoration.
a bag made of a light material, as silk or plastic, filled with heated air or a gas lighter than air, designed to rise and float in the atmosphere and often having a car or gondola attached below for carrying passengers or scientific instruments.
(in drawings, cartoons, etc.) a balloon-shaped outline enclosing words represented as issuing from the mouth of the speaker.
an ornamental ball at the top of a pillar, pier, or the like.
a large, globular wineglass.
Chemistry Now Rare. a round-bottomed flask.
to go up or ride in a balloon.
to swell or puff out like a balloon.
to multiply or increase at a rapid rate:
Membership has ballooned beyond all expectations.
to fill with air; inflate or distend (something) like a balloon.
puffed out like a balloon:
balloon sleeves.
Finance. (of a loan, mortgage, or the like) having a payment at the end of the term that is much bigger than previous ones.
Contemporary Examples

Like balloons, the birds were meant to be able to carry a human aloft in a gilded cage.
London’s Guerrilla Art Olivia Cole October 14, 2009

A rousing finish briefly electrified the hall as Ryan and Ann Romney bounded onto the stage and the balloons dropped on cue.
Romney Plays It Safe Howard Kurtz August 30, 2012

In a tearful statement, he launched into a soliloquy about seeing himself free again playing with children, balloons, and dogs.
Sandusky Sentenced to 30 to 60 Years: Inside the Courtroom Diane Dimond October 8, 2012

We want 73 party hats, 400 balloons, a cake for 125 and any of the girls that are available in those costumes you sent up before.
Mel Brooks Is Always Funny and Often Wise in This 1975 Playboy Interview Alex Belth February 15, 2014

Watch as Lennon “the Liberator” and Yoko Ono battle with the press and set some balloons free.
11 On-Screen Portrayals of the Beatles Sujay Kumar October 6, 2010

Historical Examples

In England one of the most famous aeronauts was Mr Green, who introduced coal gas for balloons, and made many hundreds of ascents.
Up in the Clouds R.M. Ballantyne

The balloon was one of the two Boyce balloons and had never been tried.
In Africa John T. McCutcheon

Then the shells there are bigger than balloons, and are the largest hollow shot ever made—the French has nothing like them.
Canada and the Canadians Sir Richard Henry Bonnycastle

Steamers, and railroads, and balloons—all you have heard of, I doubt not.
Fred Markham in Russia W. H. G. Kingston

The balloons were asked to answer the question, ‘Has the enemy any outposts in rear of his camp?’
The War in the Air; Vol. 1 Walter Raleigh.

an inflatable rubber bag of various sizes, shapes, and colours: usually used as a plaything or party decoration
a large impermeable bag inflated with a lighter-than-air gas, designed to rise and float in the atmosphere. It may have a basket or gondola for carrying passengers, etc See also barrage balloon, hot-air balloon
a circular or elliptical figure containing the words or thoughts of a character in a cartoon

a kick or stroke that propels a ball high into the air
(as modifier): a balloon shot

(chem) a round-bottomed flask
a large rounded brandy glass

a large sum paid as an irregular instalment of a loan repayment
(as modifier): a balloon loan


an inflatable plastic tube used for dilating obstructed blood vessels or parts of the alimentary canal
(as modifier): balloon angioplasty

(informal) go down like a lead balloon, to be completely unsuccessful or unpopular
(informal) when the balloon goes up, when the trouble or action begins
(intransitive) to go up or fly in a balloon
(intransitive) to increase or expand significantly and rapidly: losses ballooned to £278 million
to inflate or be inflated; distend; swell: the wind ballooned the sails
(transitive) (Brit) to propel (a ball) high into the air

1570s, “a game played with a large inflated leather ball,” from Italian pallone “large ball,” from palla “ball,” from a Germanic source akin to Langobardic palla (from Proto-Germanic *ball-, from PIE *bhel- (2) “to blow, swell;” see bole) + -one, suffix indicating great size.

Perhaps also borrowed in part from French ballon (16c.), altered (after balle) from Italian pallone. It also meant the ball itself (1590s), which was batted back and forth by means of large wooden paddles strapped to the forearms. In 17c., it also meant “a type of fireworks housed in a pasteboard ball” (1630s) and “round ball used as an architectural ornament” (1650s). Acquired modern meaning after Montgolfier brothers’ flights, 1783. As a child’s toy, it is attested from 1848; as “outline containing words in a comic engraving” it dates from 1844. Also cf. -oon.

“to go up in a balloon,” 1792; “to swell, puff up,” 1841, from balloon (n.). Related: Ballooned; ballooning.

balloon bal·loon (bə-lōōn’)
An inflatable spherical device that is inserted into a body cavity or structure and distended with air or gas for therapeutic purposes.


A woman’s breasts, esp large •Possibly offensive to women


A hobo’s bedroll; bindle (1920s+)
A condom (1960s+)
A dollar bill; one dollar: It’ll cost you six balloons (1970s+)
A platoon (1970s+ Army)
The floating blob with a line to a speaker’s mouth, used to show speech in comic strips (1840s+)


To lose one’s lines completely during a performance; blow up, go up (1920s+ Theater)

Related Terms

lead balloon, trial balloon, when the balloon goes up
In addition to the idiom beginning with


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