What does It Mean to be "Full of Hot Air"?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

When someone is said to be “full of hot air,” it means that he or she talks a lot about topics that he or she doesn't really understand. This slang term has its origins in the United States, and it appears to date to the late 1800s. In addition to being “full” of it, something can be referred to simply as “hot air,” a shorthand reference to the longer saying. As a general rule, when one is accused of this, it is not a compliment.

Someone "full of hot air" is like hot air balloon: full of little of substance.
Someone "full of hot air" is like hot air balloon: full of little of substance.

In order to understand the meaning of this phrase, you simply need to know that as air heats, it expands. This trait is exploited to do a wide variety of things, including filling hot air balloons. In the case of a hot air balloon, the air becomes lighter than the surrounding environment, allowing the balloon to float, so one could imagine someone being so full of hot air that he or she simply floats away. Or, more simply, the speech of someone like this tends to fill a space quickly, without offering much in the way of substance.

This term is used to describe exaggerations, empty talk, and obvious hyperbole. The implication is that the speaker is talking only to hear his or her own voice; filling the space with hot air, in other words. Typically, someone who is full of hot air will cheerfully discuss complicated topics without fully grasping them, which can be a subject of amusement for people who are more knowledgeable.

Politicians in particular are often accused of being full of hot air, making empty promises that they cannot, in fact, keep. Many politicians strive to counter this classic image by pointing to previous activities that they have orchestrated or participated in, attempting to prove that they do, in fact, know what they are talking about. The term may also be used more generally to describe bombastic, pushy individuals who insist on being heard at any group or gathering, whether or not their views are helpful.

It is also possible to hear a plan or idea referred to as “hot air,” in addition to hearing the term in reference to people. The term is also sometimes used to describe organizations, suggesting that the heads of the organization are not really sure of what they are doing, and that as a result, their plans or schemes will probably end up failing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Being full of “hot air” also refers to people who make empty threats to people which they have no capacity to follow through on. It’s a form of manipulation and control. Here I think it’s important to note the difference between someone just kidding around about a threat, and someone who is attempting to make a real threat.

For example, people flippantly say things like, “If you do that again, I’ll kill you”-when of course they don’t really mean that, it’s just an exaggeration showing the gravity of the situation. However, some people make threats and they intend to suggest they can carry through, when in fact that they can’t; these people, in the truest sense of the term, are full of hot air.


@Crispety - I know what you mean. My friend is trying to get her son to be more independent. He is 25 and still lives at home, but she pays all of his bills for him. She pays for his car along with his insurance and cell phone. He also does not help his mother with any of the bills and has a modest job although he just graduated from college.

She keeps giving him ultimatums but he continues to live the same lifestyle because his mother is too afraid to throw him out of the house. It is really a hard situation to be in as a parent, but my friend’s son is losing out on building his self confidence because all is provided for him.

I think that he is too comfortable and will not make a change because he really doesn’t have to.


@Sunny27 -I agree with you. I think that the full of hot air meaning also refers to empty promises and saying things that people want to hear. For example, most politicians discuss problems with the educational system in the United States, but all of them refuse to make any changes to that system.

If there are no changes to the system, then how can you expect the situation to improve? It is just like when you tell a child that if they misbehave there will be consequences and when they misbehave you don’t follow through on the consequences and the child does not get punished, it sends a bad message to the child.

The child learns that the parent is full of hot air and doesn’t really mean what they say. I believe that actions that don’t have consequences tend to repeat themselves. Children that grow up with these messages tend to not take rules seriously and are often shocked when the consequences of not following the rules are applied to them when they grow up.


I think that politicians are full of hot air when they discuss cutting spending measures. They all say that it needs to be done, but they just keep spending more money.

This is why the general public does not normally believe the promises that these politicians make because most believe that they are indebted to their supporters who have donated money to their campaigns.

For example, if a politician received large donations from many unions they will defend the issues important to the unions even though it may be in direct conflict with what their constituents want. This is why people believe that most politicians are full of hot air and only say what people want to hear.

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