What Is a “Hot Take,” and Where Did the Phrase Come From?

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Hot takes are everywhere online. You’ve probably seen the phrase “hot take” thrown around, but what exactly does it mean? Where did it come from, and how do you use it?

A Hot Take Is a Controversial Opinion

A hot take is an opinion that’s unpopular to the point of controversy. In fact, many hot takes are published, posted, or said out loud just because of their controversial flavor.

On the internet (and occasionally in real life), intentional hot takes are preceded by an acknowledgment that the take is, in fact, hot. As an example, you or a friend might post “hot take: dogs should be illegal.”

It’s a lot like saying “in my opinion” before actually stating your opinion. Saying “hot take” gives people room to scrutinize or ignore what you’re saying, or it can frame what you’re saying as a joke.

Of course, most people put hot takes out there without saying the words “hot take.” This can be done on purpose, like when a friend posts something controversial on Facebook just for the hell of it. Or it can be done unintentionally, like when a friend throws out an opinion without realizing that it’s uninformed, ignorant, or just inappropriate for the social group.

People tend to respond to hot takes with anger, shock, or disbelief. That’s why some people intentionally post hot takes online—they just want to make others upset. But people are learning to respond to hot takes with phrases like “wow, that’s a hot take.” This turns the controversial opinion into something less threatening, although it can also turn people’s opinions into spectacles.

“Hot Take” Is a New Term, Kind Of

News happens in real-time on the internet. It’s shared for free and funneled through social media. As a result, fledgling news outlets can compete with established companies, and journalists are forced to work extra fast.

These are the circumstances that birthed the “hot take.” The word has some vague history in sports writing, but it ballooned in stature during 2012 because of Tebowing, the meme where you get down on one knee to pray like Tim Tebow.

An old-timey reporter laughs behind a typewriter.
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The Tebowing meme was created online and proliferated by sports fans. Before being covered by the NFL and other established outlets, it got a ton of attention from small websites like BuzzFeed (which is now a very big website).

Evidently, all of this Tebow reporting was very lucrative, because journalists wouldn’t stop talking about Tim Tebow. Controversial articles got a lot of attention (no surprise there), but there were also some tabloid-level hits like “The Museum of Sex Gave Tim Tebow a Lifetime Membership.”

Most of this Tebow reporting had nothing to do with football (and everything to do with memes). Established journalists aren’t really into that, so they started referring to these articles as “hot takes.” The word spread to all other genres of journalism, and it sort of became a catch-all word for “something that I think is stupid,” and not necessarily for something controversial or unpopular.

Over time, hot take trickled into the public vernacular—probably because of journalists on Twitter. It began to develop a concrete definition (a seriously unpopular opinion) and started being used to describe any opinion, not just the opinions that crop up in news articles.

(The Tebow-era meaning of hot take is still floating around, and it’s used by some journalists to criticize articles that they think are uninformed or stupid. Dictionaries like Merriam Webster place a heavy emphasis on this older meaning.)

How to Come Up With a Hot Take

A man sits at his computer and tries to compose a hot take.
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It’s easy to master the art of hot takes: you just need some unpopular opinions (or a good sense of humor). If you hate pasta salad, for example, you could post “pasta salad is trash” on your Facebook or Twitter account. That’s a solid hot take that could leave people foaming at the mouth.

Or, you can make things more pleasant by introducing your idea as a hot take. You could say “hot take: ranch is the worst condiment,” or “hot take: sneakers are ugly.” This lets people know that you’re just trying to be funny, or that you’re trying to throw out your opinion without getting in a serious fight.

You can also call out hot takes on social media or in person. While probably best to ignore intentionally controversial opinions (especially online), mentioning “this is a serious hot take” can take some of the edge off a conversation. It’s a sign you’re refusing to take the bait.





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