Merriam-Webster is Closely Watching the Word “Metal” as an Adjective (i.e. “That’s So Metal!”)


“That’s so metal!” is no longer a phrase uttered by us metalheads looking to convey the darkness or intensity of something other than music: the phrase is catching on in the mainstream to such an extent that Merriam-Webster, the organization behind the world’s go-to dictionary, is keeping an eye on “metal” as an adjective for potential future inclusion in its volumes.

“Metal” as a noun (or “heavy metal”) has referred to the music we all love for decades, of course (and to a specific kind of earth-born material for centuries before that), but Merriam-Webster has noted an uptick in the use of the word as an adjective of late, influenced (as we know) by the music of the same name. Merriam-Webster notes:

“The upstart metal descriptor evokes the powerful energy and dark themes of heavy metal music, communicating toughness, intensity, and general, er, badassery.”

Saying something is “metal” seems so second nature and widespread by now that it’s hard for me to believe the word hasn’t always been used that way, but a look back at how the press has used the word tells a different story. Sharing just a few of what are no doubt thousands of recent Twitter posts using metal as an adjective, Merriam-Webster traces the trend as far back as 1998, citing a review of Anthrax’s Volume 8: The Threat is Real from The Denver Post as the first instance “metal” was used as an adjective in the press:

“The New York band certainly doesn’t shy away from the metal label—the word appears five times in the first paragraph of the latest Anthrax press release. And there’s no mistaking its new album, “Volume 8: The Threat is Real” (Ignition Records), for a Pearl Jam record. It’s so metal it clangs when you drop it on your CD tray.”
— Mark Harden, The Denver Post, 20 Aug. 1998

Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching” series tracks words they’re increasingly seeing in use but that have not yet met their official criteria for entry into the dictionary, so it still could be a while before “metal” as an adjective makes it in, if it ever does. Still: it’s always fun to revel when cultural themes from our little niche make their way out into the rest of the world!

Thanks to longtime friend of MetalSucks Loana for sending this in.

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