has-been

[ haz-bin ]
/ ˈhæzˌbɪn /

noun

a person or thing that is no longer effective, successful, popular, etc.

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Origin of has-been

First recorded in 1600–10

Words nearby has-been

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does has-been mean?

Has-been is a negative term for a person who is considered to have lost or to be far removed from the success, popularity, or skill that they once had.

Has-been is used as an insult. It’s most often applied to famous people, such as athletes and actors—to be called a has-been, a person has to have been known for having an outstanding quality.

Another insulting term based on has-been is never-was, which is intended to suggest that a person was never known for having any outstanding qualities. It’s typically used in conjunction with has-been to insult someone in an even worse way, as in You’re not even a has-been—you’re a never-was! Another less-common term formed in the same way is could-have-been, referring to a person who never became successful but could have. This can be an insult or a compliment, depending on how it’s used.

Example: I don’t need advice from some has-been—I want to learn from someone who’s been able to stay in the game.

Where does has-been come from?

The first records of the term has-been in its current sense come from the 1700s. (Earlier uses of the word are now obsolete.) Turning a verb phrase into a noun in this way is somewhat uncommon in English, but there are at least a few similar terms, like the haves and the have-nots. Another word that turns a verb phrase into an insulting term for a person based on their past and present is sellout.

Has-been packs a lot of insult power into just two simple words. It implies that someone was once at the top of their game—they were successful and popular. But it very cruelly claims that is no longer the case. This is done to indicate that the person is no longer relevant or important or that other people are simply better at what they used to be good at.

Has-been is often used in negative criticism of (often aging) celebrities or famous athletes who are supposedly past the prime of their career. Such people are sometimes also negatively described as washed-up or yesterday’s news. The term is sometimes applied to non-famous people as long as they were at least somewhat well-known for having some positive quality.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to has-been?

  • has-beens (plural)

What are some synonyms for has-been?

What are some words that share a root or word element with has-been

What are some words that often get used in discussing has-been?

How is has-been used in real life?

Has-been is always used in a negative way as an insult, even when people apply it to themselves.

 

 

Try using has-been!

Is has-been used correctly in the following sentence?

The critic called the singer a has-been who hasn’t had a hit song in 20 years.

Example sentences from the Web for has-been

British Dictionary definitions for has-been

has-been

noun

informal a person or thing that is no longer popular, successful, effective, etc
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