Saturday, April 18, 2015

What Bae REALLY Means & Where It Came From, Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part series on the American English slang word "bae". This post provides a definition for the word "bae", and includes quotes from several online sites, as well as my thoughts about the Louisiana Creole/Cajun use of the word "bebe" as a contributing source for the word "bae".

This post also includes a partial listing of African American songs with the word "baby" in their title, as well as comments about the multiple uses of the word "baby" in African American Vernacular English.

Part II of this post provides another excerpt of an article about the word "bae" as well as comments from that article. Click for that post.

Part III of this series contains selected comments from Pharrell Williams' 2014 Pop record "Come Get It Bae"'s video discussion thread. That YouTube video is also included in that post. Click for that post.

The content of this post is presented for cultural and etymological reasons.
I'm most interested in the general topic of how the English language has changed and continues to change because of its incorporation of slang in general and African American slang, in particular.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

The American English slang word "bae" (pronounced "bay") is a shortened form of the word "baby" or "babe", meaning a person's girlfriend or boyfriend, i.e. someone who is special to you. The word "bae" has recently been expanded to mean something that is special to you, something that you like alot.

The best Internet article that I've found about the word "bae" is "Behind the Dictionary Lexicographers Talk About Language: "Bae" Watch: The Ascent of a New Pet Name" by Neal Whitman, March 27, 2014 The author of that article, begins by indicating that "bae" is a new way of saying "boo", an informal referent whose meaning he gives as "sweetheart, "darling". However, "boo" -which rhymes with the word "you"- can also be a mildly affectionate referent for a friend - as voiced by neterosexual males to females or heterosexual females to another female, or as voiced by people of by people who are LGBT to people of any gender.

Here's a rather lengthy excerpt of Neal Whitman's article:
"Like boo, bae originates in African American English. The Oxford English Dictionary speculates that boo might come from beau, but ultimately judges its origin uncertain. Bae, on the other hand, has a pretty straightforward etymology: It started as a clipped form of baby or babe. Or did it? (More on that later.) The earliest evidence I've found for the existence of bae is a chart generated on the website Rap Genius, which indicates that bae has been turning up in rap songs since 2005, although their search interface makes it hard to confirm.

In late 2012 and on into 2013, bae spread into wider awareness thanks to several internet memes...

The "Bae caught me slippin" meme consisted of people pretending to be as clueless as the hypothetical Mikayla, and posting increasingly ridiculous sleeping selfies. This meme, in fact, prompted lexicographer Grant Barrett to nominate bae as the American Dialect Society's Word of the Year for 2013 (though that title ended up going to because)...

A few months after "Bae caught me slippin'" caught on, the meme "Cooking for bae" was started on Instagram and Twitter by an anonymous Georgia woman. This stream of photos shows disastrous dishes (often referred to as "struggle meals," but that's a topic for another time) served up by people trying to cook something "for the bae."

More recent still is the meme "You got a bae? Or nah?" As far as I've been able to pinpoint this one, it originated in late 2013 with Tina Woods, aka Too Turnt Tina, a teenage user of Vine, the social media site that lets you share looping 6-second video clips...

Coming back to the etymology of bae, it turns out that for a few years, a very different origin story has been going around: It's an acronym for "before anyone else." The earliest example of someone making this connection that I've found is this tweet from 2011:
My girl hates being called bae but i still call her that bc it stands for Before Anyone Else

Hundreds of tweets, and several Urban Dictionary entries, promulgate this idea, and it's amazing how easily people will believe it, based on nothing but the say-so of some ordinary person on the internet....

Aside from the existence of many bogus acronymic etymologies, including such old favorites as "port outward, starboard home" and "for unlawful carnal knowledge," there are several other reasons not to buy this BAE story.
1. Occam's Razor, part I. Given the meaning of bae, the simplest origin is that it derives from babe via deletion of the final consonant.

2. Timing. The first references to bae as standing for "before anyone else" appear six years after the earliest attestations of bae that I've found.

3. Spelling variation. Going back at least five years, you can find the word spelled bay, as it is in this tweet: "going to breakfast with my family....coming back home to work on my essay for nursing school n going out with my bay later. u?"

4. Non-romantic usage. In addition to referring to a lover, bae/bay turns up in the phrases bae bro and bae sis ("baby brother," "baby sister"), as in this tweet from 2009: "And Max's bae bro was down with dude from Spic N Spanish. It's all too much!"

5. Occam's Razor, part II. There are more elaborate etymologies for bae that are still more plausible than the acronymic explanation. For example, in the same way that police becomes the po-po, initial syllable reduplication of baby gives bay-bay or bae-bae, which are both attested on Twitter. For example, here's a tweet that seems to be from a mother taking her kids to see the movie that killed the previous Spider-Man franchise: "Seeing spider man 3 with the bay bay's." Bay/bae could then be produced by haplology.

6. Occam's Razor, part III. Alternatively, bay-bay could be a result of "lowering" the final vowel of baby, in the same way as party gets twisted into par-tay. Haplology for the finishing touch as above. This is the least likely of the three possibilities, in my opinion, but even this one is based on linguistic processes that are attested.
The word "haplology" is hyperlinked to this Wikipedia page on that word:
"Haplology (from Greek ἁπλός haplos "simple" and λόγος logos, "speech") is defined as the elimination of a syllable when two consecutive identical or similar syllables occur. The phenomenon was identified by American philologist Maurice Bloomfield in the 20th century."

Wood F, a blogger wrote this comment about Neal Whitman's article:
"I think the spelling deserves some attention. In English the vowel combination 'ae' only appears in words borrowed from Latin (e.g. 'alumnae'). Seeing this spelling in AAE-derived internet slang is jarring. Why did this spelling catch on instead of 'bay,' which would be the traditional way of spelling a word ending in the long 'a' vowel?"
As to Wood F's question, my guess is that the spelling "bae" for the shortened form of "baby"/"babe" was used more than the spelling "bay" at least in part because the word "bay" already has two rather well known meanings-
"a body of water enclosed by land but having a outlet to the sea" and aromatic leaves from several plants used for cooking.

BEBE AS A SOURCE OF THE WORD BAE [Updated April 20, 2015]
Neil Whitman wrote that "The earliest evidence I've found for the existence of bae is a chart generated on the website Rap Genius, which indicates that bae has been turning up in rap songs since 2005, although their search interface makes it hard to confirm." I'm not going to attempt to suss out which Rap songs that website refers to. However, it occurs to me that the word "bae" may have been a clip of the word "bebe" [pronounced bay bay].

The word "bebe"(French for "baby") and the nickname "Bebe" aren't unusual to Americans who are familiar with Lousisiana Creole & Cajun cultures. For example, read this excerpt of an article about fiddler "Bebe" Carriere
Bebe Carriere Artist Biography" by Eugene Chadbourne
"When fiddler Joseph "Bebe" Carriere passed away from a heart attack in 2001, it was considered the end of a musical era. Bebe and his brother Eraste Carriere were masters of the old-time style called "la la" music, and as the Carriere Brothers were a bridge from traditional Creole styles to the later, but still rural, zydeco style...Although he played a normal fiddle from the age of 15 on, nothing does a better job of summarizing the intense sound of the Cajun fiddle -- known to send wimpy listeners running into the night screaming -- than the tale of how Bebe Carriere made his first fiddle out of a wooden cigar box, stringing it with wire yanked out of a busted window screen. His older brother Eraste Carriere was born in 1900, and the brothers were members of a share-cropping family that descended from slaves. The family, including the musically famous brothers, stayed in the Lawtell, LA, all their lives."...
Also, notice the word "bebe" in the Creole/Cajun song "Fais Do Do Bebe" [Go to sleep, baby]
Click which has come to refer to "a Cajun dance party, originating before World War II."

The nickname "Bebe" was popularized by the 1992 African American animated movie BeBe’s Kids.
"Bébé's Kids (released on home media as Robin Harris' Bébé's Kids) is a 1992 American animated comedy film produced by Reginald Hudlin and Hyperion Pictures, directed by Bruce W. Smith, and released on July 31, 1992 by Paramount Pictures.

The first animated feature to feature an entirely African-American main cast, the film is based upon comedian Robin Harris' "Bébé's Kids" stand-up comedy act. It features the voices of Faizon Love (in his film debut), Vanessa Bell Calloway, Marques Houston, Nell Carter, and Tone Lōc. Tom Everett, Rich Little, and Louie Anderson also lend their voices."...
Based on that comedy routine and movie, "Bebe's Kids" has become a referent for two or more children whose behavior is out of control. "Bébé" is a female's nickname whose source probably is from the French word "bebe" which means "baby". That nickname shouldn't be confused with the name Bebe (pronounced bee bee) that some African Americans (and presumably other people) have. Two famous African Americans with that name are the male Gospel & R&B singer BeBe [Benjamin] Winans and author Bebe Moore Campbell (February 18, 1950 – November 27, 2006), whose first name was "Elizabeth".

Urban contains a number of entries for the word "bebe" that documents its use as a synonym for "baby", "babe", "boo". Here are several of those entries:
Top Definition
Another way of saying baby to your baby
Hey bebe, fetch me a sandwhich ^_^"
by Jeldah May 07, 2004

(n.) A nickname used to show affection towards your boyfriend or girlfriend. Synonymous to babe, baby, honey, etc. The person's name may also be attached to the end of the word "bebe" as in the example below.
I love you so much bebe!

You are my one and only Bebayjay!

by hachimitsu June 11, 2010
Notice how the word "bebe" is spelled "bebay" in the second example. This suggests that "bebe" was sometimes spelled "baybay".

A kickass way to call your beloved :]]
Gio: Hi amor :]
Mari: AMFG!!! Hi bebes! How is you???
Gio: *Freaked out* ... Fine... o_o

by Mari G June 24, 2009

term of endearment. Usually used by couples because baby is just too mainstream.
1. hello bebe I've missed you!

2. Water you doing bebe?

3. Bebe lets sleep.

by captain amewica August 19, 2012

a very sexy and sweet guy who you want to be with forever; attractive with beautiful eyes; highly intelligent; caring and understanding
Bobby, my love, is one hot bebe."
by Christine May 02, 2003
Click the "bebe" tag below for other pancocojams post that showcases Louisiana Creole/Cajun songs that include the word "bebe".

When a person calls a loved one "baby", she or he isn't trying to infanticise that person. Rather the person is expressing that the love that she or he feels is as pure as the love one feels for a baby. One variation of the affectionate term "baby" is "baby cakes" (meaning, someone who is as sweet as a baby and as sweet as cakes).

"Baby girl" is a very common, usually mildly friendly informal referent for women among African Americans. That referent is similar to "sistah" ("sista") and "girlfriend" and usually means the same thing as "girlfriend" with no implications that the person speaking is older than the one addressed and no implication that the person being addressed is being patronized or put down. "Baby boy" is much less common, because of the negative connotations that are associated in the United States and elsewhere with calling Black men "boys"- That said Beyoncé has a song entitled "Baby Boy". That said, instead of "baby boy" a Black man, particularly one whose name you don't know, may be referred to as "brother man" or "bruh" (bro).

"Baby mama" is a relatively common term that an African American man, and by extension, other men, may use for the mother of his child or children who he is not otherwise involved with. I think that the comparable phrase "baby daddy" is used much less often than "baby mama".

In addition to the Beyoncé song that was already mentioned, some examples of African American songs that include the word "baby" -in no particular order- are "Baby, It's You" by the Shirelles, "Baby Love" by the Supremes, "Ooh Baby Baby" by the Miracles, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Ray Charles & by Betty Carter, "Give It To Me Baby" by Rick James, "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes, "There Goes My Baby" by the Drifters " and "Baby Workout" by Jackie Wilson. This list also should include the Pharrell Williams song "Come Get It Bae" that is the focus of Part III of this pancocojams series. And that partial list doesn't include all the other "baby" songs that by non-African Americans like "I Got You Babe" by Sonny & Cher and "Baby Face" (you got the cutest little baby face) by whomever.

And given African Americans' fondness for word play and our propensity for creating new forms of words and expanded or different meanings for already existing words, it's not surprising that we came up with the slang word "bae" from the word "babe" and "bebe".

In summary, I believe that "bae" is a clipped form of the word "baby" and "babe". I believe the word "bae" is also a form of the French word "bebe" that was used by African Americans.

Like Neil Whitman who was quoted above, I also believe that the acronym "before anyone else" that is attributed to the word "bae" was made up years after the word "bae" was first used. I also believe that the statement that "bae" means "bacon and eggs" is mostly facetious,and the statement that "bae" is Danish for "poop" is irrelevant to any discussion about the meaning of that word in English slang, since any number of words that are spelled the same or similarly in one language may have completely different meanings in another language.

This concludes Part I of this series.

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