Green’s Dictionary of Slang

burnout n.

[burn out v.; orig. 1940s burnout, the sudden loss of power in a jet or rocket engine]

1. (drugs) a heavy abuser of drugs; also attrib.

[US]H. Feldman et al. Angel Dust 167: Now it isn’t popular. (laughs) I mean being a burnout’s like being like a pig.
[US]G.A. Fine With the Boys 182: At one school in Bolton Park, kids are classified as to whether they are daredevils (kids who get into trouble), jocks, or burnies (burn-outs – preadolescents who smoke, drink, and use drugs).
[US](con. 1970s) G. Pelecanos King Suckerman (1998) 199: Jerry was kind of a burnout.
[US]‘Randy Everhard’ Tattoo of a Naked Lady 170: I was the addict who’d lost all sense of shame, the burnout on the street, the junky in the gutter.
[US]Mad mag. Sept. 40: There’s always that one burnout loser who hangs around the school parking lot.
[US]P. Beatty Sellout (2016) 120: A route that once you got past the Santa Monica pier was mostly rideless, except for the burnouts [and] bums.

2. the situation of having exhausted one’s capabilities (whether through sheer hard work or through drink and/or drugged excess), being no longer able to function efficiently at a job or discipline; thus the ‘burned-out’ individual.

[Aus]L. Haylen Big Red 153: So that’s where he was [...] out on a bender—a bloody big burn out.
[US]L. Bangs in Psychotic Reactions (1988) 172: The central heroic myth of the sixties was the burnout. Live fast, be bad, get messy, die young.
[US]J. Ellroy Suicide Hill 66: ‘[A] psychiatrist's report that states, essentially, that he's a burnout’.
[US]J. Wambaugh Golden Orange (1991) 56: Burnout. Stress. Same old story.
[UK]Guardian Guide 5-12 June 57: Success, excess and eventual burn-out after being forced to take it to the edge night after night.
[UK]Guardian 6 Jan. 8: Many GPs are suffering from ‘burn-out’ because of stress.
[US]C. Hiaasen Nature Girl 8: [He] was rumored to be a dot-com burnout.
[UK]Eve. Standard (London) 29 Feb. 🌐 ‘Burn-out hits juniot doctors on front line.’ Junior doctors are increasingly suffering from burn-out and stress.
[US]D. Swierczynski California Bear 7: The Girl Detective assured her aunt she’d be fine; it was just freshman-year burnout.

3. a collapse, esp. when sudden.

[UK]T. Blacker Fixx 166: The premature burn-out of Talbot’s career.

4. (US) a burned-out building.

[US]C. Stroud Close Pursuit (1988) 12: He has gone through a hole in the floor of this burnout up in the Bronx.

5. an alienated, aimless, poss. suicidal, young person.

[US]D. Gaines Teenage Wasteland 3: ‘Dropouts,’ ‘druggies,’ the papers called them [...] My friends, most of whom were born in the 1950s, felt the same way about the kids everyone called ‘burnouts’. [Ibid.] 59: Cop watching, skateboards, and car races are the burnouts’ idea of sports.

6. (US campus) LSD.

[US]Da Bomb Summer Supplement 3: Burnout (n.) L.S.D., acid.

7. spinning the rear wheels of a car without moving, thus causing a cloud of smoke.

[UK]Indep. on Sun. Travel 25 July 2: ‘A burn-out’ [a crowd-pleasing manoeuvre that sees the rear wheels spin violently while the car remains stationary in a cloud of smoke].
[UK]Guardian G2 28 Apr. 4: There were a couple of tyre tracks from some burnouts.

8. (UK prison) the setting on fire of a despised prisoner’s cell.

[UK](con. 1990) N. ‘Razor’ Smith A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun 341: Burn-outs were mainly for suspected nonces or grasses [...] It involved going into the victim’s cell and splashing petrol over his property before setting it ablaze. Baby oil, available from the canteen, could also be used.

9. (US black) Motorola flip phones.

[US]‘Dutch’ ? (Pronounced Que) [ebook] Motorola flip phones, known as burnouts on the street because they chipped and turned on illegally.