Scrolling idly through Instagram about six months ago I saw a photo of a young couple staring into each other’s eyes with soppy expressions on their faces. So far, so predictable. What briefly caught my ever-editorial eye, however, was the caption: ‘Me and my bae’. I automatically presumed that the pair were so distracted by their passionate romance that they’d mistyped ‘babe’, so I thought nothing more of it. Over the next few days and weeks, though, I saw more and more references to bae on social media. At first I was willing to pass it off as an epidemic of typos, but as time went on and the bae usage became more prolific and varied, I became increasingly suspicious that there was more to this than a simple misspelling.
I took to trusty Google for enlightenment, searching for ‘what does bae mean’ (you know you’re getting older when you start having to google words used on social media). My search, rather confusingly, returned two answers. One that it is an abbreviated form of ‘babe’, and the other that it is in fact an acronym for ‘Before Anything Else’. There seemed to be no definitive proof either way, but the meaning – a term of endearment – was evident. I was intrigued though, so I started paying more attention to the contexts in which bae was being used in an attempt to better understand its meaning.
I found examples of the word being used as a noun (‘J-Law’s rumoured new bae, Chris Martin, was also in the vicinity’, ‘When you and bae say the same thing at the same time’), a verb (‘Chloë Grace Moretz just revealed she’d totally bae Zac Efron’) and an adjective (‘Ice cream is bae’). It seems that bae is primarily a noun used to refer to a person’s boyfriend or girlfriend, but that it has morphed over time to take on a wider meaning: a term that can be used to label things as very good, as in the ice cream example above. The verbal usage appears to have stemmed from a British radio station, which uses a humorously named game, ‘To bae or not to bae’, as part of their interviews with celebrities. The game involves the radio presenter naming various well-known people and asking the celebrity interviewee if they would ‘bae them’, i.e. if they would date them.
Finally I felt suitably informed and confident that if I have the urge to use the word bae myself, I will do so correctly, and I hope anyone reading this now feels similarly equipped. Just to put your knowledge of current English vernacular to the test, I will leave you with the following quote from The Huffington Post to decode: ‘Talk to the hand, bae, ’cause your basic face aint on fleek!’
Click here to see the online Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary entry for bae.
About the author: Stacey Bateman is a Production Editor in OUP’s ELT Dictionaries department. She taught English in Spain and worked for a sports and local interest publisher in Derby before joining OUP in 2011. She would count reading and all things floral as bae.
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