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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

Since then she has dodged demands from the hotel to settle her ballooning bill, French daily Le Parisien reported.
Saudi Princess Dodges $8m bill Tom Sykes June 3, 2012

Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint slashes domestic spending in an effort to shrink the ballooning federal deficit.
Could Medicare Sink the GOP in 2012? Patricia Murphy May 24, 2011

That is, until the other party abandons the idea of any tax increase whatsoever to bring down the ballooning national debt.
Why Eric Cantor Bailed Patricia Murphy June 23, 2011

Next came an economic downturn, in 1990, coupled with ballooning deficits.
What Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush Have in Common Andrew Romano October 26, 2012

Instead, she launched into the now-very familiar GOP talking points about ballooning food stamps rolls and weak jobs reports.
Bill Clinton, Reince Priebus, Ann Coulter, and More Sunday Talk The Daily Beast Video September 22, 2012

Historical Examples

Don’t know anything about ballooning, but do want to assist Military Science.
Punch or the London Charivari, Vol. 98 June 7, 1890 Various

Piles may co-exist in some cases of ballooning, but are usually not annoying.
Intestinal Ills Alcinous Burton Jamison

Few attempts at ballooning of any kind had up to that time been made in all America.
The Dominion of the Air J. M. Bacon

Robertson was a contemporary of Pinetti, and, like him, a pioneer in ballooning.
The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin Harry Houdini

His most ambitious achievement is ballooning, to which he owes a fame in the Quarter only less than Mr. Square’s.
Our House Elizabeth Robins Pennell

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 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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