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trial balloon (plural trial balloons)

  1. (idiomatic) An idea, suggestion, or prospective action, product, etc. offered to an audience or group in order to test whether it generates acceptance or interest.
    • 1925, "Tariff: Campaign Issue," Time, 30 Nov.:
      Congressman Cordell Hull, onetime Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, last week issued a statement, as a sort of trial balloon no doubt, linking the high tariff with failure to get 100 cents on a dollar in payment on War debts from Europe.
    • 2006, Suzan Fraser, "Icahn Floats Time Warner Portal Merger Idea For Comment," FinancialWire, 19 Jan. (retrieved 27 Jan 2010):
      Billionaire investor Carl Icahn and his investment group reportedly floated an idea to merge certain Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) assets with an undisclosed web portal. . . . "This trail balloon, or rumor, lacks the specificity [necessary] for a thorough response," said a Time Warner spokeswoman.
    • 2019 November 21, Samanth Subramanian, “How our home delivery habit reshaped the world”, in The Guardian[1]:
      No one in the day-to-day hustle of e-commerce talks very seriously about the kind of trial-balloon gimmicks that claim to revolutionise the last mile: deliveries by drones and parachutes and autonomous vehicles, zeppelin warehouses, robots on sidewalks.


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