by Alana Dore, inside columnist
Bae. You’ve used it, either ironically or literally – and for your sake, I hope the former – to refer to your significant other, roommates or friends. You’ve Instagrammed a photo of yourself and a Chipotle burrito with the caption: “me and bae.” It fills your Twitter feed and your Facebook timeline. This three-letter term has invaded every aspect of our social lives, yet we know so little about it.
By now, it’s inevitable that you know the meaning of the word bae, but, just in case you’ve been living under a rock, it is generally used in reference to a significant other of any gender for whom one cares deeply, or your Chipotle burrito.
It first began to pick up speed in 2012 and 2013 with the meme “bae caught me slippin,” which, as you may remember, was associated with people taking selfies of themselves sleeping. The gimmick in these photos was that they were obvious selfies, and in most of these memes, the subject’s hand and phone were caught taking the photo. Bae, in this instance, is referring to their significant other who hypothetically caught them sleeping. You following?
Use of the term became mainstream when Pharrell Williams released the song, “Come Get It Bae” with Miley Cyrus in May of 2014. Despite the rise in popularity, I didn’t hear this word until a few months after when a friend of mine said, “Thanks bae” over group text and I lost my composure. I was filled with satisfaction as I burst his bubble and called him out for shortening the term baby, demanding, “Isn’t babe short enough?”
It was in this conversation that I was first chastised for my improper understanding of the term and was informed that bae was really an acronym for “before anyone else.” I had my suspicions, but it was not until recently that my doubts were confirmed. This erroneous origin story first appeared in 2011, three years before the term hit its peak but nearly six years following the first use of the word in mainstream media.
According to Rap Genius, the earliest use of the word bae in rap lyrics dates back to 2005. We were listening to “Pon de Replay” and “Hollaback Girl,” but someone, somewhere was starting the bae trend. Just look at how well the term fits in the lyric, “when the pimp’s in the crib bae / drop it like it’s hot.”
While popular media has just recently adopted the trend, the truth is bae has been around for decades, grounded in Southern African-American communities where it formed naturally as a result of letter-dropping, turning “baby” to “bae.” Although a hotly debated topic, this word-shortening is a common and natural occurrence. This final consonant deletion is an explanation for the word that makes the most sense both linguistically and historically.
Trends come and go – do you remember spelling fat with a ph? – but overuse and the effects of groupthink (thanks for that, UrbanDictionary) have created a lesion in society, a rift between those who are repulsed by the use of the word and those who have embraced it. Whatever your stance, let’s agree to give credit where credit is due and embrace its roots.
Me? I believe “baewatch” season must come to an end, but Justin Bieber has ruined “baby” for me as well.