Bae Watch

8 Dec

The more I see the word ‘bae’, the more I grow to love it. If you’ve been near the internet at all in the last year or so you’re bound to have come across it. If you don’t know what it means, you’re not alone. Google it. If only because you will then discover that part of its beauty is that it’s ill-defined. It’s etymology is uncertain. It’s only a newborn, but already its parenthood is in question. There are attempts to link it to the Danish word ‘bae’, meaning poo, but I suspect this is as a result of people googling it and finding it already exists, then assuming the one comes from the other.

The reason I love this word is because it is a great example of a very contemporary phenomenon, a word that has been promulgated by the internet, by online communities. There are a few memes around it now, some of which I’ve dabbled in myself on twitter, without really having a grasp of what it means. It doesn’t matter. The important thing, to me, is that it makes people REALLY ANGRY.

Some people seem to despise the word, and I think it’s a fascinating phenomenon. There’s a real ‘Angry of Tunbridge Wells’ element, people who automatically despise new words if they don’t arrive in our language through the ‘proper’ literary channels. This makes me love these words more. They are not sanctioned by the self-appointed guardians of language. They are born, they hang on, they persist, they spread virally. They accrue meaning and cultural value through usage. That is the only means of approval. Those that don’t pass this test are lost.

I wonder at the anger these words engender. I suspect that it is commonplace prejudice, the suspicion that they have arisen from sections of society that are beyond the control of the mainstream. I fear that actually that prejudice is class and race based. I hope not. But I am glad that in loving these words I am on the winning side. Common language always wins. You can’t stop it, try as you might to defend the citadel of correctness.

The important thing is that this is where language lives and breathes. Neologisms are not merely the province of the Shakespeares of the world. In text speak, in internet memes, in online communities – this is where new words are born and nurtured. And despite the fact many of them are shorthand, there is a tendency to brevity where the medium is written rather than spoken, there’s nothing lazy about these coinages. They are often forged in a spirit of playfulness and a love of language and how it can be shaped, bent into new patterns. Just look at the complex world around the word ‘pwn‘ for example. I suspect a good deal of new everyday language is coming to us through online gaming (no doubt there’s plenty of evidence of this, but this isn’t an essay, just a short blog and a love song).

If your response to this is to reply “But what does ‘bae’ actually mean?”, I’m afraid it’s a big old facepalm.


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