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Origin of dope

First recorded in 1840–50; from Dutch doop (dialect) “sauce,” derivative of dopen “to dip, baptize”; cf. deep, dip1

regional variation note for dope

7. See soda pop.

OTHER WORDS FROM dope

un·doped, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What else does dope mean?

A dope can be a fool, a slang term for “excellent,” or refer to drugs like marijuana.

Doping is using performance-enhancing drugs in sports.

Where did the term dope come from?

Dope comes from the Dutch doop, meaning “thick sauce” and used for various types of gravy in English in the early 1800s. By the 1850s, dope was a mild insult for a “stupid person” … even Disney’s 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarves featured Dopey.

You know what else is thick and sticky? Opium, referred to as dope by the 1880s. This drug can be packed into a pipe as a thick paste. By the 1900s, dope was slang for other drugs, including “morphine,” “cocaine,” and “heroine” and then especially “marijuana.” A dope city is 2000s slang for a neighborhood where drugs are prevalent.

Dope spread into the hip-hop lexicon in its early days. Clean-living rapper Spoonie Gee cautioned teens on his 1979 “Spoonin Rap: “You better look alive, not like you take dope.” Else you’ll be a dope, slang for someone who is drugged out.

Rappers started using the word dope to mean “excellent” by the 1980s, which we can find in the lyrics of hip-hop OG‘s Busy Bee and Grandmaster Flash. Some linguists call this process of changing a term with negative connotations into positive ones “inversion.” We see it in other slang like bad or sick, both meaning “very good.” Associations with the euphoric feelings of being high and the “bad boy” vibes of drug-dealing, street life, and partying probably also helped shift dope‘s meaning.

Doping, for “performance-enhancing drugs” like steroids banned in sports, came into the spotlight during scandals in baseball, cycling, and the Olympics in the 1990–2000s. Particularly prominent was Lance Armstrong, the tarnished Tour de France champion who admitted to doping in 2013. This sense of dope evolves out of horse-racing slang in the early 1900s, with dope referring to substances given to horses to improve (or impair) their performance. Expressions like the straight dope or inside dope comes from bettors getting all the information on a horse.

How to use the term dope

While dope for “excellent” came out of Black slang and hip-hop culture, it was quickly appropriated by mainstream culture. The nerdy, white step-brother in 1995’s Clueless remarked “that would be pretty dope of us” to help out his stepsister’s friends.

Lana Del Rey commands “Be young, be dope, be proud,” on her 2012 single “Americans.”

a dope morning

Posted by Ariana Grande on Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Dope has even made its way into Kpop on BTS’s 2015 single “Dope,” in which the band boasts about being the slang term.

Despite the appropriation, it still sees plenty of use in Black culture. For example, comedians Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson launched a podcast called “2 Dope Queens” that discusses topics on race and gender. Director Rick Famuyiwa titled his 2015 feature film Dope, about a geeky, Black teen man who overcomes adversity, including a bullying drug-dealer.

Dope is still used as slang for “drugs,” as seen in G Unit’s 2015 joint “Move that Dope”: “Turn the whole brick to a Lam / Been rockin’ the dope, soon as it get off the boat.”

Doping is widely used in discussions of sports. In the 2010s, a massive doping scandal rocked Russian sports, including an official Russian team being banned (though not individual athletes) from the 2018 Winter Olympics. The organization that tests athletes in international competitions is called the World Anti-Doping Agency.

More examples of dope:

“Congresswoman Maxine Waters Inspires a Dope Designer T-Shirt During Men’s Fashion Week”
—Jazmin Brooks, Essence (headline), July 2018

“Dope testing is due to be introduced at The Open for the first time this week at Carnoustie but South African golfing legend Gary Player questions why it has taken so long.”
—Oisin McQueirns, Pundit Arena, July 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for dope

British Dictionary definitions for dope

dope
/ (dəʊp) /

noun

verb (tr)

adjective

slang, mainly US excellent

Word Origin for dope

C19: from Dutch doop sauce, from doopen to dip
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Medical definitions for dope

dope
[ dōp ]

n.

A narcotic, especially an addictive narcotic.
An illicit drug, especially marijuana.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.