None of many official and authoritative dictionaries I checked online describe "burnout" as does this Wikipedia article. What I'm talking about is this:

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I checked:

Cambridge Dictionary
American Heritage Dictionary
Random House Kernerman Webster's Dictionary
Oxford Dictionaries (at lexico.com)
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Collins English Dictionary
Webster's New World College Dictionary
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online
Macmillan Dictionary
Oxford Learner's Dictionary

The only place I've seen this definition is in Wiktionary where it is the last and fifth definition given, after definitions 2 and 3, which would seem to suggest these meanings are more frequently encountered:

  1. (US, slang) A marijuana addict; one whose brains have been burned out.
  2. (aeronautics, space) The shutoff of a rocket motor following the complete exhaustion of its fuel supply, or having been irreversibly throttled after the application of a planned delta-v.

The Wikipedia article says that a "burnout" can also be called a "peelout" or "power brake", but from what I've seen "burnout" seems to be much commoner than either of those two alternatives. "Peelout" or "peel-out" and "power brake", if found in dictionaries at all, often have inconsistent meanings among each other. One I saw gave the definition of "peelout" as what I would call a skid (as in coming to a stop with the wheels stationary). Wiktionary doesn't list this "peelout" as a "burnout", other dictionaries list "peel out" as a phrasal verb meaning to depart quickly and noisily in a car or motorcycle, and "power brake" gives results like this:

A motor vehicle brake assisted by a power mechanism operated by the engine that amplifies pressure applied to the brake pedal.
American Heritage Dictionary

What I find surprising is that to my knowledge "burnout" isn't really slang or informal. The Wiktionary entry listed definition 2, a marijuana addict, as US slang, but didn't mark spinning tires meaning at all. If I were giving testimony in a court I would most likely use this word instead of saying "He spun his wheels and blew up smoke from his tires."

Is "burnout" not the overwhelmingly commonest word for this action? Is it slang or informal? And if it isn't, why isn't this meaning defined in dictionaries? Even informal and slang terms are defined in official dictionaries, and I thought "burnout" was a very common term. It's something I thought all of us see and hear all the time. And I'd bet some of us do little mini versions of this when we take off too fast, especially in front-wheel drive cars.

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    I agree this is a common, well-known definition. I don't know why it's not in dictionaries. You'd have to ask them.
    – Jim
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 6:25
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    The Australian [Macquarie Dictionary][1] online lists five meanings for the term burnout, the fourth of which reads: 'Colloquial a stunt in which the rear tyres of a car or motorcycle are made to spin on the spot at very high speed and thus cause as much smoke as possible.' [1]: macquariedictionary.com.au (subscription required)
    – NMI
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 6:40
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    My suburb contains a major university campus and a lot of student accommodation. Consequently, burnouts are executed at least daily within earshot of my home. Sigh.
    – NMI
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 6:49
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    @NMI So interesting it's in the main Australian dictionary but not all the others I checked.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 6:53
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it asks about the vetting policies of dictionaries; this is addressed by writing to the publishers involved. The candidate usage is probably on the radar of most dictionary editorial boards, but has not yet acquired the currency to merit listing. Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


The expression burnout meaning spinning tires is actually mentioned in the following dictionaries of slang. It is derived from car racing, originally from US.

The Green’s Dictionary of Slang cites burnout in the suggested meaning apparently as a UK usage:


  1. spinning the rear wheels of a car without moving, thus causing a cloud of smoke.

    • 1999 [UK] Indep. on Sun. Travel 25 July 2: ‘A burn-out’ [a crowd-pleasing manoeuvre that sees the rear wheels spin violently while the car remains stationary in a cloud of smoke].

    • 2000 [UK] Guardian G2 28 Apr. 4: There were a couple of tyre tracks from some burnouts.

While The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English defines burnout as a US expression:

3 - In drag racing, the pre-race spinning of ar’s rear tyres to clean and heat the tyres producing crowd-pleasing noise and smoke (US 1988):

  • Police were a used and pelted with bottles and cans as they tried to break up the crowds cheering drag racing and burnout competitions. Herald p.3, 4 April 1988

The OED does not list 'burnout' but it does list one of the meanings of 'doughnut' as :

  1. slang (originally U.S.). A manoeuvre or stunt in which the rear end of a motor vehicle is deliberately made to revolve rapidly around the front end (or vice versa) by means of a controlled skid, often leaving ring-shaped tyre marks or tracks. Also: a similar manoeuvre executed by another type of vehicle. Frequently in to do (also spin, cut, etc.) doughnuts.

Oxford English Dictionary

It does indeed seem strange that the OED lists what they refer to as the 'slang' doughnut usage but does not include the slang use of 'burnout'.

The OED also refers to 'burn up' in a slang usage :

burn-up n. Brit. /ˈbəːnʌp/, U.S. /ˈbərnˌəp/ (a) the consumption of fuel in a nuclear reactor; (b) slang a ride on a motor-cycle, etc., at an extremely high speed

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    The OED doesn't have the spinning wheels meanings of "burnout"? Pam's comment seemed to suggest it did, but it's behind a paywall. Also, I'm not sure "burnout" is slang. It's an extremely common thing and I don't know what else I'd call it.
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 10:57
  • @Zebrafish Pam's comment said that she couldn't see this in the OED. It may be that the term hasn't reached sufficient currency in the UK for them to include it.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 11:13
  • It has a sub-entry for burn-out (under burn; though most of the examples use the spelling burnout), but it does not list that meaning for it.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 11:16
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    @AndrewLeach It looks like the OED does recognize this sense, although less obviously than it could. Here's a paywalled link to what Colin is referencing. Notice the 1941 citation is exactly the sense sought here: “The topless Ford lurched, one wheel at a time, through the deep burnout.” (1941 W. Stegner in Harper's Mag. Jan. 160/1)
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 16:59

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