So I looked up the definition of "Hype":

From Dictionary.com (surprisingly).

  1. to intensify (advertising, promotion, or publicity) by ingenious or questionable claims, methods, etc. (usually followed by up).

To clarify; the definition of "hype" that I'm looking at is an expression of excitement over something. Urban Dictionary has a bit of a better description of this:

when someone gets excited about something

"Damn... you hype calm down homey"

So where does this form of the word "hype" originate from? Dictionary.com also provided an origin, but I'm not sure if it's the origin of the version of "hype" that I'm referring to:

1925-30, Americanism; in sense “to trick, swindle,” of uncertain origin; subsequent senses perhaps by reanalysis as a shortening of hyperbole


2 Answers 2


Hype has a long history of slang use in the United States, with various meanings emerging and disappearing or changing shape. As a result, the source word for a particular sense of the term can be difficult to identify with any confidence. J.E. Lighter, The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1997) devotes the equivalent of two full-size dictionary pages to various forms of hype and hyper—and right out of the box it concedes that the meanings not directly related to the use of hypodermic needles "may reflect a different etymon."

As early as 1910, Lighter reports, hype (or hyp) appears as a short form of "hypodermic (needle)":

1910 Adventure (Nov.) 183: I turned to give another hyp. Ibid. 186: I was filling a hyp. with a new solution.

But Lighter also points out a number of other senses of hype that have emerged over the years: as a noun, a heroin or morphine addict (by 1924), a shortchange swindle or (any) con game (by 1925), a sudden steep but usually impermanent rise in retail price (by 1926), a misleading or exaggerated story (by 1938), and overblown publicity or advertising (by 1958); as an adjective, fraudulent (by 1978), and impressive or outstanding (by 1989); as a verb, to swindle or cheat (by 1914), to cajole or mislead (by 1938), (often as hype up) to inject via hypodermic needle (by 1938), (often as hype up) to make more exciting (by 1942), (often as hype up) to make more excited (by 1946), (often as hype up) to increase or inflate (by 1947), (in carnival cant) to charge more than the usual rate for merchandise (by 1950), and to promote aggressively (by 1959).

The term "shortchange swindle," by the way, refers to persuading a shopkeeper that one paid for some item with a larger-denomination bill than one actually handed over.

Etymologically, the main point of contention is whether all of the senses of hype ultimately come from hypodermic or whether one or more other words (most notably, hyperbole, though hypocrite is also a possibility) are the source of some of the senses involving deception or exaggeration. Two dictionaries—Harold Wentworth & Stuart Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang, first edition (1960), and Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, eighth edition (1984)—give hypodermic as the source of all meanings of hype. From Wentworth & Flexner:

hyped-up adj. Artificial, phony, as though produced by a hypodermic injection of a stimulant. 1950: "No fireworks [in this movie], no fake suspense, no hyped-up glamour." Billy Rose, synd[icated] newsp[aper] col[umn], Jan. 9.

From Partridge:

hype, n. Something intended to stimulate sales, etc.,; a publicity stunt; the person or thing promoted by such a stunt: s[lang, from] coll[oquial]: adopted, early 1970s ex US. [Citations omitted.] [Clarence] Barnhart [A Dictionary of New English (1973)] derives the term ex the US s[lang] for a 'hypodermic injection (especially of a narcotic drug)'.—2. 'Addict (from hypodermic) US' (Home Office) drugs world: 1970s.

hype, v. To stimulate by publicity stunts. [Citation omitted.] Ex the n. Also hype up.

On the other hand, Tony Thorne, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (1990), and Robert Hendrickson, The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, revised edition (1997), assert that the promotional senses of hype have their source in the word hyperbole. From Thorne:

hype vb, n (to create) excessive, overblown or misleading publicity. A term applied first to the activities of the pop music industry in the early 1970s, hype is a shortening of hyperbole. The word was apparently in use in the USA for many years among swindlers and tricksters before becoming part of commercial jargon (where it is now widespread).

From Hendrickson:

hype, hyperbole. Although there lived in the fourth century B.C. an Athenian demagogue named Hyperbolus given to exaggerated statement, hi name dos not give us the word hyperbole, or hype, as it is abbreviated today. Hyperbole derives from the Greek hyper, "over," plus bole, "throw," which conveys the idea of excess or exaggeration. Hyperbolus was just appropriately named.

Robert Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition. separates the hypodermic-based senses of hype from the senses whose origin is less definite:

hype1 1 n narcotics by 1913 A hypodermic needle; =HYPE-STICK 2 n narcotics by 1925 An injection of narcotics 3 n narcotics by 1924 An addict who injects narcotics: [citation omitted] 4 n A seller of narcotics: =CONNECTION: [citation omitted]

hype2 1 v by 1937 To blatantly promote: [citation omitted] 2 n Advertising or promotion, esp of a blatant sort: [citation omitted] 3 v by 1914 To trick, deceive,; originally to short-change 4 v by 1938 =HYPE UP ["To fake, manufacture; invent; =HOKE" or "To promote or advertise by blatant, obnoxious means" or "To give something a false impact, appeal, energy, etc."] {origin unknown; perhaps related to hyper, "hustle," of obscure origin, found from the mid-1800s; recent advertising and public relations senses probably influenced by hype1 as suggesting supernormal energy, excitement, etc., and by hyper2 and hyperbole; sense 4 supported by a 1914 glossary: "Hyper, current among money-changer. A flim-flammer"}

For reference, here is Chapman & Kipfer's entry for hyper2:

hyper2 1 adj by 1942 Overexcited; manic; over-wrought; =HYPED UP: [citations omitted] 2 adj by 1970s Exceeding most; very superior;: [citation omitted] {fr Greek hyper, "super," and in the first sense probably fr medical terms like hyperactive, hyperkinetic, hyperthyroid, etc; in some sources this term is associated with hipped and hippish, fr hypochondriac, "melancholic," first found in the early 18th century}

And finally John Ayto & John Simpson, The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (1992), splits the hype entries into what it deems clearly hypodermic related and not clearly hypodermic related senses, but declines to hazard an opinion about the origin of the latter:

hype1 orig US noun Also hyp. 1 A drug addict. 1934–. [Citation omitted.] 2 A hypodermic needle or injection. 1929–. verb trans. 3 To stimulate (as if) by an injection of drugs; usu. followed by up; usu. as a past participial adjective 1938–. TIME [magazine] As he works, Mitchell has at times been so hyped up that Martha once asked his doctor to prescribe medication to slow him down (1973). {Abbreviation of hypodermic.}

hype2 orig US noun 1 dated An instance of short-changing, esp. done on purpose to deceive; someone who does this. 1926–. 2 Cheating; a trick. 1962–. [Citation omitted.] 3 Extravagant or intensive publicity promotion, 1967–. [Citation omitted.] verb trans. 4 To short-change, to cheat. 1926–. 5 To promote with extravagant publicity. 1968–. [Citation omitted.] {Origin unknown.}


Hypodermic is clearly the source word for the narcotics-related meanings of hype; but the origin or origins of the senses associated with deception, fraud, exaggeration, intensive promotion, and (as an adjective) manic or overexcited behavior remain very much in dispute.


I think tracking down the origins of modern urban slang words is going to be extremely difficult.

I think it is perfectly logical that the 'excitement' use of the word would evolve naturally from the original 'exaggeration' (hyperbole). The exaggeration was made in order to generate excitement. So referring to the excitement generated with the same word is quite understandable. (I'll come back with another example of that if I can think of one.)

The only other possible source I can think of is as short for "hyper", which is short for "hyperactive". Not strictly the same thing is being excited but urban slang doesn't care too much about such pedantry.

I am actually a little surprised that the 'excited' meaning of the word hasn't entered the dictionary. It is quite common and has been for some time. I am erring on the side of it coming from hyper(active). That it fits both, I suppose, is a happy coincidence that reinforces its use.

  • 1
    I cannot think of any use for "hype" that does not sound like a shortening of hyperbole, except for the occasional use to mean "drug addict", from "hypodermic syringe". Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 1:46
  • @Malvolio as an adjective from a verb like and meaning excited: "I'm hyped" like "I'm pumped" like "I'm stoked". It's hard to think of it as a shortening of hyperbole in that form.
    – Avon
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 2:05
  • I have never heard "hype" as an intransitive verb. That use must come from "hyperactive". Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 2:14
  • Which is odd because these are all relatively recent, whereas hyper- is a prefix and has been for centuries. I have difficulty coping with the thought of just saying pre as its own word.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 3:07
  • hyper a prefix appearing in loanwords from Greek, where it meant “over,” usually implying excess or exaggeration ( hyperbole); on this model used, especially as opposed to hypo-, in the formation of compound words ( hyperthyroid). Expand. Compare super-. Origin of hyper- Expand.
    – user98990
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 3:27

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