Despite its widespread use in popular discourse, the term ‘social dumping’ remains poorly defined and thus subject to misconceptions or conscious abuse. This paper reviews recent public debates and academic studies on real or perceived social dumping threats, drawing attention to the simplistic understanding of the mechanism underlying such practices as well as to enduring operationalization problems. It goes on to offer a refined conceptualisation of the notion by constructing an analogy between trade and social dumping. Finally, using examples from the EU context, it outlines key characteristics of social dumping practices pursued in the areas of labour /services and capital mobility.