Is This The End Of Bae?

Is bae a no longer a thing? Was bae ever a thing?

Is This The End Of Bae?

by Sophie Wilkinson |
Published on

‘Bae’, despite its profligacy online and in soppy bae-by talk whispered across pillows by loved-up couples, isn’t in the dictionary yet. So if you ask your parents what ‘bae’ means, they’ll probably come back at you with a ‘huh?’ or a quip about BAe Systems, a FTSE company which makes planes and, um, weapons to go on some of those planes.

In the grand scheme of things, your mate tagging #bae under an Instagram post of her and her potato-heady boyfriend is probably less destructive than whatever BAe Systems is doing to the world. But it’s certainly on a spectrum of ‘things we’d rather do without’. That said, just like those planes, the word has criss-crossed the planet, and it’s now wedged into the lexicons of young people and the advertisers looking to lure in a zeitgeist-savvy youth market.

But as we see the frequency of its use drop (it peaked on Google trends in May 2015) where did this word even come from? A spokesperson for the Oxford English Dictionary explains to The Debrief: ‘Often with a word that seems to be “new”, research shows that it is much older than you might at first think. When we researched “selfie”, we found it went back as far as 2002.’

As for ‘bae’? Well, its stint as a buzzword might not work for its longevity; it’s not in the OED yet because it’s too new, she said: ‘No word will make it into the OED without breadth and depth of evidence, and it’s unusual to include a word with fewer than five years’ evidence. Once a word goes in, it never comes out, so it has to show that it has longevity as well as quantity.’

Plus, unlike ‘honey’, which had different uses before becoming a term of affection, ‘bae’ hasn’t got that foothold into the dictionary.

‘Bae’ went stratospheric when Pharrell and Miley Cyrus released Come Get It Bae in May 2014. But just like twerking had a history long before Bangerz-era Miley took it for a spin, the word’s history is much richer than that.

John Kennedy (no relation), Editor at online musical knowledge site Genius, tells The Debrief: ‘Pharrell told me he heard “bae” growing up, his parents used to call each other bae and it wasn’t a trendy thing.’

Bear in mind Pharrell, for all his youthful glow, was born in 1973. This means ‘bae’ has been doing the rounds for decades. Could it be that it’s a simple mispronunciation of ‘babe’?

Professor Peter L Patrick of the Department of Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex, says it’s not so much pronunciation, as a different dialect: ‘It’s not a new word at all, because it actually occurs in speech.’

‘It is the word “babe” with a change to the final consonant. In African American Vernacular English, putting a glottal stop (how the British will say “wa-er bo-el” for “water bottle”) at the end of words which otherwise sound like they end in –b, -d, -g is common.’

It’s the change in its use, though - from noun (this is my bae) to adjective (that shirt is bae) to ‘other less clearly-identifiable grammatical usages’ which means ‘The sense of the word has become loosened and extended to the point it can mean practically anything.’

The fact we love enough things to call them ‘bae’, or describe them as ‘bae means that the word means far too much at the same time to be properly defined for future generations. Our love for ‘bae’ has, effectively, destroyed it. We’ve hugged around it too tight and crushed it. Just like our actual bae, right?

But if it’s annoying for the casual, post-2014 adopter of the word, spare a thought for the people who grew up hearing and speaking AAVE and so simply can’t help that they say ‘bae’. What made bae trendy in the first place, John Kennedy says: ‘is artists who incorporate things from their own culture into their music so the world can see it. Like Beyoncé saying “I got hot sauce in my bag” in Formation. She’s shining a light on things from that culture, then people take it and run with it.’

But these people run far. John explains: ‘It’s a common thing - mainstream culture gets a hold of a piece of a subculture then blows it up, over-uses it and then you see corporate brands using it. It becomes a gimmick.’

John doesn’t seem cross that ‘bae’ has been overused and overdone; he jokes that it’s pretty likely that Meghan Trainor will someday drop a song with 'bae' in. But in late 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported on an account called @BrandsSayingBae, there to aggregate incidences of brands using the word ‘bae’ liberally.

These days, the account functions on two levels. The first is to highlight irrelevant uses of ‘bae’; a Pizza Hut slogan hoody reading ‘PIZZA IS BAE’, a T-shirt in support of Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio along with a stencil design of his face and the slogan ‘Ru(bae)o’. The second is to call out brands using other slang, like ‘on fleek’, ‘af [as fuck, as in ‘high af’] and ‘swag’.

These words have more in common than having all trickled up into the earshot of the ad executives and social media sorts who deploy them so frequently. They’re all words African Americans have been saying for years. 'Bae' is fun; it’s a romantic word, one people can joke around with on social media, uploading a photo of a frappé on a hot summer’s day with the message ‘Starbucks is bae’. But when it's been borrowed by corporations who are turning casual language used by a marginalised and derided subculture into a saleable package to sell back to them, it’s easy to see how so many have fallen out of love with bae.

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Follow Sophie on Twitter: @sophwilkinson

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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