The New York Time’s (September 12) article in its Theatre section titled “Letting Lips Do What Hands Do” with a sub-head, “ A voice instructor for the leads in ‘Romeo and Juliet” begins with the following line:

Sometimes love arrives like a thunderbolt. Sometimes it arrives with a bonk on the head with a balloon.

According to Wikipedia, “Bonk on the Head” is a novel written by John-James Ford, published in 2005. It is about coming of age in a journey that takes the protagonist through the final years of high school, a reserve regiment and the Royal Military College of Canada.

I understood the origin of the phrase, but what does it mean in the the context of the above quote?

Additionally, I surmise “Let lip do what hands do” means “Let your speech be consistent with your action/motion,” but I’m very unsure. Is this a popular saying?

  • you have an answer(s) but the 99% are left saying - huh? Sep 13, 2013 at 6:50

1 Answer 1


Bonk on the head with a balloon

is not referring to the novel but is literally

So soft as being bonked on the head with a balloon

The instructor is literally using a balloon to make the actors envision how soft the banter should be and how two adolescents might approach each other for the first kiss

As for the title of the blog let lips do what hands do it's from Act 1, Scene 5 and not a saying used in daily conversation or as an idiom

JULIE Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

ROMEO Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
JULIET Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

e.g. You say you greet hand to hand, so now let's greet with our lips instead - I grant you permission (thou, not though as in the article) to kiss me.

  • 2
    Yes, sometimes it is big and obvious- a thunderbolt. Sometimes it isn't- a bonk on the head with a balloon. "Let lips do what hands do" is Romeo and Juliet flirting. Act 1, Scene 5. Capulet hall.
    – mikeY
    Sep 12, 2013 at 21:32
  • 1
    I’m not sure I really understand your last phrase. To make it clearer: the extract starts off with Romeo touching Juliet and condemning his hands as being unworthy of touching such beauty; but if she is offended, his lips stand ready, like two blushing pilgrims, to soften his hands’ touch. Juliet then says that pilgrims’ hands even touch the hands of saints in greeting, and two palms touching is like a kiss. Therefore, since saints and pilgrims also have lips, Romeo suggests they let their lips ‘greet’ each other in the same palm-to-palm manner—i.e., kissing. Sep 12, 2013 at 21:50
  • 2
    To my mind, it's by no chance that a balloon was chosen as the inflictor of the blow. The balloon's got no sharp edges, it is a nice and round object, so that obtunds the blow and makes it less sudden, but it is so large (sure, relatively, but it does literally mean 'huge ball', and also, we're not dealing with light, rubber balloons, but the antique, bladder ones), that even though you don't exactly recoil from the blow you quick find yourself "smoted". It discombobulates you, like love :)
    – Talia Ford
    Sep 12, 2013 at 22:21
  • 2
    @Yoichi Oishi yes, the quotes were there for those in the know, but now that you've asked, smoted is archaic as well as slang conjugation of smite. "kings will be smoted on the day of his anger (psalm 110)"; "I had sex with my ex-boyfriend who came back to tell me he doesn't need me for he's moving in with his new girlfriend, just to show that I cannot be smoted. I am unsmotable." "Thou shall be smoted for killing thee topic" "Report to moderator Logged. I am the creator of all this, question me and you shall be smoted!" "Be there – or be smoted"
    – Talia Ford
    Sep 12, 2013 at 23:48
  • 1
    Please see update, @JanusBahsJacquet - it was very late :/ A balloon can bonk very softly. I cannot think of other words you would use when balloon touch you. To me a bonk is something with a recoil - in this case the balloon will bounce (ah another word) off your head.
    – mplungjan
    Sep 13, 2013 at 5:55

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