Bling Etymology

Someone should forward this article to the NY Times critic Ann Powers, who hilariously asserted that “bling-bling” was the slang term for shooting a gun:

It’s all about the bling-bling
Elizabeth Taylor dripped it, and Liberace flaunted it. Carmela Soprano’s a walking advertisement, and P. Diddy’s real-life poster boy.
This year’s Oscars consciously toned it down, while the “Ab Fab” girls giddily talked it up.
Now the Oxford English Dictionary is about to officially induct it into the lexicon.
“Bling-bling” — America’s latest verbal fling.
Unless you’ve been vacationing in Tibet, you’ve probably heard it a lot lately. The hip-hop expression bling-bling, or sometimes just bling, has been popping up everywhere — television, radio, and newspapers — spoken and written by folks who are several steps removed from pop culture’s cutting edge.
Coined in 1999 in a same-named song by a New Orleans rapper named B.G., bling-bling applies to big showy jewelry — the kind typified by razzle-dazzle designer Chris Aire that gets Lil’ Kim’s heart racing, sets off alarms at airports, and goes bling when it collides with other bling (hence the name).
“Bling-bling really became popular with me when Shaq and the Lakers were using the term for their championship rings” in 2001, says Californian Jeffrey “Halfshaq” Marino, who sells lots of bling online at www.pimphats.com — one of several Web sites that revel in metallic excess. (Another, MrBling.com, for example, sells custom-made teeth in yellow gold, white gold, and platinum.)
If the sports world was quick to embrace the word, all of television is on a bling bender. CNN Headline News has been using “bling-bling” and other hip-hop terms in its headlines and graphics as part of what the network’s general manager has called an aggressive attempt to stay “relevant, smarter and cooler” to a younger audience.
The cooler-than-thou term has clearly exploded into the unhip mainstream — which is why it’s headed for the dictionary.
“We’re going to draft an entry, which we’ll probably publish soon,” says Jesse Sheidlower, principal editor of the OED’s North American Editorial Unit, who says it will be added online (as all new entries are) and will probably include several senses of bling-bling as a verb, noun, and adjective. “We decide based on currency. In a case like bling-bling, it’s very widespread…”

Although it is usually credited to BG, and he certainly popularized it and established its current meaning, I will point out that the phrase “bling bling” was heard long before his record came out. The first time I remember was Jesse West a.k.a. 3rd Eye, on Supercat’s “Dolly My Baby” remix in 1993: “Bling, bling! yo who’s that with Supercat…”

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48 Comments

  1. and the colophon to yet another black colloquialism is blanched and neutered to make the white establishment seem “[more] relevant, smarter and cooler” than it is seemingly able to achieve without our contributions.
    i’d like to see the powers that be cease eavesdropping at the cultural dividing wall, waiting for us to say something they can put into a commercial, and open the door to the recognition of our value as shapers of a national identity. we have been kept too long in the intellectual poverty of being humorous, but highly dismissible, entertainment.
    in short, hip hop matters.
    but ya’ll knew that already, now, didn’t you?

  2. “…eavesdropping at the cultural dividing wall”
    that was beautiful. i instantly saw a political cartoon in my head when i read that…

  3. It’s sad that our language gets polluted with a poor expression or slang term that probably won’t be around after antoher 5 or so years.

  4. To me, ‘bling-bling’ is pretty much proof that having lots of money does NOT equal having good taste.

  5. …what?!
    “bling bling” before “player hater”?!?!

  6. If you don’t want to be “kept too long in the intellectual poverty of being humorous, but highly dismissible, entertainment” don’t complain when words from your side of the “cultural dividing wall” are included as proper English words. What would you think if none of the words from your side of the “cultural dividing wall” were ever considered? If someone gave you a fifty pound bag of money, you’d proably complain about how bad your back hurt as you carried it to the bank. I guess you’ve never heard the saying ” Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

  7. A NORMAL Person

    It’s sad when intellectual cornerstones bow to the pervasivity of common idiocrity. Just because alot of people use a stupid and utterly nonsensical word does not legitimize it. If the etymology of the phrase “bling-bling” really was created in 1999 as mentioned, then why would it be inducted into a dictionary so quickly. Why is the so-considered intellectual community eager to reveal its underlying ignorance? “Bling-bling” not only sounds idiotic as a phoenitic phrase but it gives the impression that the speaker has an I.Q. of about 20. Once a word gets inducted into a publication such as the Oxford-English Dictionary it will never go away and it contributes to the significant downfall of the intelligence of the average person. The lowest common denominator keeps on getting lower when influenced by such phrases as “wasssssuppppp” and “cha-ching” and “….not”. This just demonstrates the fall of contemporary society. Its no wonder why the average intelligence of a person has actually gone DOWN in the past 50 years when there are such pervasive influences from people that aren’t smart enough to remember their last name so they think that nobody else needs to either.

  8. HIP HOP SUCKS

    HIP HOP SUCKS HIP HOP SUCKS HIP HOP SUCKS GET A LIFE GET A LIFE GET A LIFE

  9. Hate Seeing our language destroyed

    English is a beautiful langauge that is easely understood. It seems certain factions find it difficult to speak it correctly. They are to lazy or have to low of IQ and would reduce it to grunts or even lower forms such as just pointing if thet thought they could. I agree with the above post Bling bling sounds stupid. It may be alright for 2 year olds. It should never be placed in a dictionary.

  10. The cultural paradigm of America…

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  14. Great post, I think I saw something about this on Dish Network the other night.

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  17. Why all the fuss over Bling Bling? Personally, I find the sound of the phrase irritating, much as I do the word, “tabernacle.” these are just personal preferences I can’t describe. Anyway, back to the issue: there seems to be a hostile cultural divide over the popularization of the phrase…. first of all, to the hip-hoppers, you should feel proud, not resentful, that hip-hop culture has hit the big time. To those who claim adoption of these new slang words is contributing to the dumbing down of the population, I say the following: language has never been static. Cultural imprints make using language more interesting, and make the language more colorful. There will always be a formal way of writing and speaking, but there will also be a lexicon, a vernacular. So Calm Down! (and meanwhile, why don’t you examine the real roots of your disapproval. perhaps they’re based in their own ignorance?) Lastly, I say to everyone: I think its fair to say that all races – Asians, Whites, Latinos, etc – make cultural contributions to language. It ain’t just the hip-hop folks. Enjoy the spotlight though, its been a long time coming!

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  21. English is NOT an easily understood language. You understand it because you’ve been speaking it your whole life. I teach ESL and when it comes to understanding and explaining the language, it’s very difficult. English is complicated and eratic because it’s always evolving… there’s just so many cultures contributing to it.(north american hip-hop culture and commercial pop-culture being just two) “Bling” may be to some just a retarded word, passing slang, but that doesn’t reduce it’s value. Most words developed out of slang or colloquialisms. Take the word “cool” or “bad” to mean something good, both of these started nearly a hundred years ago by black jazz artists, now they’re universal. Anybody who lives in an english country can see a cool movie or drive a bad-ass car. If bling stays it won’t be because of the commercial rape of black culture it’ll be because people are comfortable with the word and continue using it… when’s the last time you heard someone say “word up!”???
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