I have come across numerous posts/memes on social media where, considering A,B and C are different people:

  1. A posts something seemingly innocuous.

  2. B comments on A's post, something either very funny or offensive to A

  3. C comments "BURN!!" with some ROFL emoticons

Not the best question, but I am just curious why people say "BURN", when they need to mock/insult other people? (according to UrbanDictionary).

How did this usage come into existence?

Is this used only in social media? Or is it used in real world conversations as well?

  • Perhaps it is related to the act of flaming in response to the post to A by B, and commented on by C?
    – IconDaemon
    Jan 11, 2016 at 13:30

3 Answers 3


According to the UD burn (as a form of mockery) is an slang expression made popular by the "That 70's show," which ran from 1998 to 2006:

  • (slang): to disrespect someone (to diss); to make fun of someone; used by a third party after a first party makes fun of a second party. Brought back to life by the ever-popular That 70's show.
  • Urban Dictionary is crap
    – Mitch
    Jan 11, 2016 at 14:09
  • 1
    Ooh... burn! Wait...
    – Mitch
    Jan 11, 2016 at 14:16
  • 2
    @Mitch - UD has been used here before as a source. It is not the most reliable but it works at times. 4K+ upvotes may imply a plausible suggestion. I think it is worth citing in this case.
    – user66974
    Jan 11, 2016 at 14:20
  • 1
    With street slang, UrbanDictionary can be quite the useful reference, but only in regards to understanding the commonality or popularity of a word or phrase. Due to the nature of UD and its design, the legitimacy of its content in terms of actual definitions is rather questionable.
    – Tim Ward
    Jan 11, 2016 at 15:19
  • 1
    That fact that the usage was made popular by that TV show doesn't explain how that usage came into existence, which was a part of the question. Why was that particular word used for that purpose by whomever was the first to so use it?
    – jsw29
    Aug 20, 2021 at 20:24

According to Wiktionary, the noun burn has the following meaning (No. 5) that fits in your context:

(slang) An intense non-physical sting, as left by an effective insult.

The above meaning is derived from its No. 1 meaning:

A physical injury caused by heat, cold, electricity, radiation or caustic chemicals.

  • 1
    Actually I imagine the burn is from your cheeks flushed in embarrassment or anger rather than from caustic chemicals.
    – Oldcat
    Jan 11, 2016 at 17:35
  • @Oldcat Yes, it could mean many things. When it is used on the internet, it is just an expression of hatred, contempt and scorn, etc.
    – user140086
    Jan 11, 2016 at 17:41

The OED (in a 2019 draft addition) references the 1942 American Thesaurus of Slang: "Disparaging or sarcastic remark; gibe" Its next earliest quotation is from the film Clueless in 1994:

Elton. You've been flirting with me all year. Cher. As if! I've been trying to help you and Tai get together. Elton. What a burn. Why would I go with Tai?"

It's also in Merriam-Webster ("used chiefly in the phrase sick burn") and other dictionaries, so no need to go to Urban Dictionary.

The origin seems to relate either to causing pain, causing redness of the cheeks (or backside), or some combination. I can't find any good evidence about this.

Reference: "burn, n.3." OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2021. Web. 20 August 2021.

  • This use of the word is somewhat different, and easier to understand, than what the question is about. In this example, Elton uses the term to characterise something that he himself was subjected to. In the OP's example, C uses the term, as an exclamation, to join in what B has done to A. Granting that there is an analogy between insults/mockery/embarrassment and the physical pain of burns, why is it that burn, as used by C, seems to be a device for joining in the mockery, rather than, say, expressing sympathy with A's possible embarrassment?
    – jsw29
    Aug 20, 2021 at 20:35

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