“Majority culture’s adoption of the word, stolen from African American vernacular, distorted it to the point of misuse and meaninglessness,” writes Robin Boylorn for the Guardian.

Fair enough: white people’s adoption of the term distorted it to the point of misuse and meaninglessness. What was once a word born of the beautifully eclectic black Southern laziness of the tongue and a shortened version of baby, became a catchall term for anything from inanimate objects to food. The reference to affection was consistent but bae was used to describe everything from one’s (desired or actual) significant other to pancakes. “That’s bae”, a student swooned, glancing at a picture of J Cole during a discussion of black masculinity last summer in class. “These cupcakes are bae”, I read in a Facebook post attached to a picture of a delicious-looking dessert not many months later. And just like that, the shelf life of bae in the public imagination expired and the gatekeepers of mainstream language decided that it must be banned.

Cultural appropriation at its best, steals, reduces, overuses and then disposes of words like so much bathwater. The linguist Jane H Hill defines language appropriation as “a type of complex cultural borrowing that involves a dominant group’s ‘theft’ of aspects of a target group’s language.” Hill claims that the ‘theft’ adds value to white identity while further marginalizing nondominant groups. This cultural “borrowing” of black language and phraseology happens regularly, allowing non-black folk to “try on” black culture through the use of African American English vernacular and slang without having to “put on” the cultural consequences of actually being black in a culture conditioned to devalue and dismiss it.

Read more at the Guardian.


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