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bae

noun [countable] informal

used to describe someone you are in a romantic relationship with

'I embarked on a small informational quest to find out just why all the kids are calling their kid boyfriends and girlfriends bae, and I'm still not sure if I know.'

Esquire 25th July 2014

Valentine's day is upon us, and if you're a social media fan, romantically attached and, perhaps most crucially, of a youthful age, then current language trends suggest that your Facebook or Twitter posts will be littered with references to your bae. If you're scratching your head at this point then I sympathize, having spent some time trying to figure out what on earth my 17-year-old goddaughter was talking about every time the word bae appeared in her tweets. Though I was confident that she couldn't possibly be referring to British Aerospace, I also had the nagging concern that everyone in the twittersphere understood this term except me. So I turned to the internet, only to discover that bae was one of those lexical newbies which provokes diverse reactions.

it's odd how some words inexplicably, and often unjustifiably, seem to get people's backs up. At the end of 2014, bae even featured in a US university's annual list of 'banished words'

Bae is used in social media contexts as an informal reference to a person's 'significant other', an affectionate shorthand for the individual they have a romantic relationship with. Its sudden popularity is partly attributable to its distribution via internet memes such as 'cooking for bae', a caption for photographs displaying unsuccessful attempts to cook dishes for a romantic partner. In 2013, bae had made enough impact to be among the American Dialect Society's nominees for 'word of the year', and its exposure got a further boost in 2014 when it featured in the title of a number by singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams – 'Come Get It, Bae'.

At the time of writing bae is very much in vogue, though like trendy coinages such as dench and amazeballs before it, it has triggered a ripple of derision in some circles, dismissed as irritating teen speak. It's odd how some words inexplicably, and often unjustifiably, seem to get people's backs up. At the end of 2014, bae even featured in a US university's annual list of 'banished words'. Ironically, in the crazy world of language change, such commentary often encourages, rather than erodes, a new word's 'stickability'.

Background – bae

Love it or loathe it, perhaps one of the most interesting things about bae is the lively discussion which has ensued about where precisely it sprang from. One, perhaps more plausible, theory is that bae is an abbreviated form of the words baby or babe (as terms of endearment). This seems to be backed up by evidence suggesting it's been used in rap songs since 2005, and is therefore probably of African American origin. Another idea, which appears to have been circulating the internet for the last three years or so, is that bae is in fact an acronym based on the expression before anyone else. There's actually no convincing explanation for this theory and it seems to exist purely by virtue of blind acceptance and rapid promulgation on the part of web users. US linguist Neal Whitman has cited various reasons against the acronym theory, including evidence for non-romantic usage, e.g. bae bro/sis ('baby brother/sister') and an alternative spelling bay. He does however concede that, because the before anyone else idea is so widely accepted among users of the term, it should perhaps be acknowledged as a contemporary 'meaning' of bae.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 10th February 2015.

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