Hot button

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Hot button is an American term that first appeared in the 1970s. We will look at the meaning of the term hot button, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Hot button describes a subject or issue that is divisive, is the object of controversy or stirs up strong emotions. The term hot button is often applied to religious or political issues. Though not added to the Oxford English Dictionary until 2009, the term has been in use since the 1970s. Marketers used hot button to describe the desire or need that a product would fulfill and thereby entice a consumer to buy that product. The assumption is that the advertising devised by the marketers would “push” that button and impel the consumer to by the product. By the 1980s the term hot button came to be used to describe political issues, and the meaning evolved to mean a controversial and emotional issue. Hot button is a noun, when used as an adjective before a noun the word is hyphenated as in hot-button.


Cardinal Joseph Tobin used his installation Mass as archbishop of Newark on Jan. 6 as an opportunity to call on Catholics to move away from rancor over “hot button” issues and toward contemplating how to live out their faith in a more holistic way. (American Magazine)

And though prostitution is still largely illegal in the U.S. (in all but a few counties in Nevada), it’s still a hot-button issue—especially where sex worker stigma is concerned. (Glamour Magazine)

Several years ago, they decided to do something about it: create a dictionary of hot-button terms and explore how every side in a debate uses them. (The Huffington Post)