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.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Entertainment

Just In