1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. (in drawings, cartoons, etc.) a balloon-shaped outline enclosing words represented as issuing from the mouth of the speaker.
  4. an ornamental ball at the top of a pillar, pier, or the like.
  5. a large, globular wineglass.
  6. Chemistry Now Rare. a round-bottomed flask.

verb (used without object)

  1. to go up or ride in a balloon.
  2. to swell or puff out like a balloon.
  3. to multiply or increase at a rapid rate: Membership has ballooned beyond all expectations.

verb (used with object)

  1. to fill with air; inflate or distend (something) like a balloon.


  1. puffed out like a balloon: balloon sleeves.
  2. Finance. (of a loan, mortgage, or the like) having a payment at the end of the term that is much bigger than previous ones.


  1. an inflatable rubber bag of various sizes, shapes, and colours: usually used as a plaything or party decoration
  2. 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, etcSee also barrage balloon, hot-air balloon
  3. a circular or elliptical figure containing the words or thoughts of a character in a cartoon
  4. British
    1. a kick or stroke that propels a ball high into the air
    2. (as modifier)a balloon shot
  5. chem a round-bottomed flask
  6. a large rounded brandy glass
  7. commerce
    1. a large sum paid as an irregular instalment of a loan repayment
    2. (as modifier)a balloon loan
  8. surgery
    1. an inflatable plastic tube used for dilating obstructed blood vessels or parts of the alimentary canal
    2. (as modifier)balloon angioplasty
  9. go down like a lead balloon informal to be completely unsuccessful or unpopular
  10. when the balloon goes up informal when the trouble or action begins


  1. (intr) to go up or fly in a balloon
  2. (intr) to increase or expand significantly and rapidlylosses ballooned to £278 million
  3. to inflate or be inflated; distend; swellthe wind ballooned the sails
  4. (tr) British 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.


  1. An inflatable spherical device that is inserted into a body cavity or structure and distended with air or gas for therapeutic purposes.

In addition to the idiom beginning with balloon

  • balloon goes up, the

also see:

  • go over (like a lead balloon)
  • trial balloon
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