MUNDANE MYSTERIES: What Makes Something A “Hot Button Issue”?

There’s so much going on in the world these days. So many “hot button issues”, as news anchors & political pundits call them. But what actually is a “hot button issue” anyway? Why is it called that?

Nowadays, the term “hot-button issue” refers to any situation with a heavy emotional undercurrent. If a subject gets people upset, agitated, excited, or just off-kilter, then that button’s temperature is high. Immigration, politicians, abortion, war…those are just a few of the hottest of hot-button topics. But the Oxford English Dictionary says that the very first known use of the phrase “hot button” was about religion. It was a 1966 New York Times article, where a Lutheran scholar was said to have recognized that “the ‘God Is Dead’ theologians have their finger on the ‘hot button.’”

But there’s also a less common commercial meaning, where a desire, need, or concern motivates people to choose among consumer goods, as well as any product, idea, or form of advertising that exploits that motivation. So, it would seem that both marketers & politicians know which of our buttons they need to push so that they can get an immediate, visceral reaction.

But why label an issue a “hot button”? Well, in the case of marketers, they view your desire or need for a product as a “hot button”. And the assumption is that the marketers’ advertising will hopefully ‘push’ that button within you so that you’ll ultimately buy their product so that that need or desire gets satisfied.

So, when you push someone’s hot button, if it’s a product then they’ll hopefully buy what you’re selling. Or if it’s a topical idea, then, one way or another, they’ll hopefully buy into the idea you’re pushing with an immediate, knee-jerk reaction.

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