Go Down Like a Lead Balloon (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Go Down Like a Lead Balloon"?

The term "go down like a lead balloon" means to be poorly received by an audience or to be a total failure.

In the US, "go over like a lead balloon" is also used.
Go Down Like a Lead Balloon (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • His "English man, Scottish man, Irish man" jokes went down like a lead a balloon.
  • I am expecting my sales pitch to go down like a lead a balloon.
  • Well, that idea went down like a lead balloon. It's time for a rethink!
  • My cakes went down a treat! My celery sticks went down like a lead balloon.
This idiom is a simile (i.e., a figure of speech that likens one thing to another). Clearly, a balloon made of lead wouldn't float in the air. It would drop like a stone.

A number of sites state this saying originated in America, first appearing in a popular cartoon syndicated across several US newspapers in June 1924. However, a close look at Google's Ngram Viewer, which scans millions of publications over the last two centuries, tells you that "lead balloons" were being used for analogy as early as the 1860s.

It is clear from Google's graph, however, that the saying did not start to become popular until the early 1940s, i.e., during the Second World War.

The Name "Led Zeppelin"

We can't talk about lead balloons without mentioning the band "Led Zeppelin."

According to an account in RollingStone, in May 1966, "The Who" drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle recorded the instrumental "Beck's Bolero" with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jeff Beck. The track came out well, and they considered forming a new band. Moon stated that the band would "go over like a lead balloon," and the new band wasn't formed. Page remembered the saying two years later when he created Led Zeppelin.

Of course, the word lead can be pronounced led or leed, which is why "Led" was reportedly chosen. In case you missed it, lead is a heavy metal, so "heavy metal" (the metal) and "heavy metal" (the music) are homonyms. More specifically, they are homophones (same sound) and homographs (same spelling).

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.