[ bahrn-bur-ner ]
/ ˈbɑrnˌbɜr nər /
Save This Word!

Informal. something that is highly exciting, impressive, etc.: The All Stars game was a real barnburner.
Chiefly Pennsylvania. a wooden friction match.
(initial capital letter) a member of the progressive faction in the Democratic Party in New York State 1845–52.Compare Hunker.
Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.

Origin of barnburner

1835–45, Americanism;barn1 + burner; (def. 3) so called with reference to burning down a barn to get rid of rats
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does barnburner mean?

A barnburner is something that is especially exciting, thrilling, or impressive. It’s most commonly applied to sports games.

Barnburner is a sports cliché. It’s especially used to refer to matchups that are consistently exciting throughout the entire game and then go down to wire, which is another sports cliché that means that they’re not decided until the very end of the game.

Example: Did you catch that triple-overtime game last night? What a barnburner!

Where does barnburner come from?

The word barnburner dates back to the 1800s. It was originally and is still primarily used in the U.S. It’s a reference to a story about a farmer whose method to get rid of the rats that infested his barn was burning down the barn entirely. The term was used in the mid-1800s as a nickname for members of a faction of the New York State Democratic Party—the metaphor being that they wanted to root out corruption by burning everything down, instead of instituting individual reforms.

Today, the word barnburner is used to refer to a very exciting event, especially a sports game that’s very close. A fast-paced baseball game with several lead changes that comes down to the last out in the bottom of the ninth inning could be called a barnburner. But barnburner is typically applied to exciting sports. A basketball game that ends in a buzzer-beater (a game-winning shot right before time runs out) in double-overtime definitely qualifies as a barnburner.

Less commonly, barnburner can be applied to other thrilling events, such as a close political race, or something considered very impressive and intense, such as a fiery speech or piece of writing.

Did you know ... ?

What are some synonyms for barnburner?

What are some words that share a root or word element with barnburner


What are some words that often get used in discussing barnburner?

How is barnburner used in real life?

Barnburner is perhaps most commonly used in sports commentary.



Try using barnburner!

Is barnburner used correctly in the following sentence?

The much-hyped game turned out to be one-sided and boring—a real barnburner.

How to use barnburner in a sentence