24 Songs That Prematurely Expanded Our Vocabularies

Lyrics in popular music have been blamed for social ills ranging from drug use to the London riots. But as back-to-school season approaches, it's worth pointing out how Top 40 radio can make people smarter—by teaching them new words. When singers venture out beyond rhyming "love" and "above," they often resort to terms you'd expect to see in an SAT question rather than a pop song. For example: Any rap-loving high schooler has likely gotten a crash-course in the precise meanings of "decadence" and "opulence" by listening to the new Kanye West/Jay-Z album. What other hits in history have expanded vocabularies? Our investigation below:


What'd we miss?

Presented by

Eleanor Barkhorn & Spencer Kornhaber

Eleanor Barkhorn and Spencer Kornhaber are senior associate editors at The Atlantic.

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