Lyndsay Carter

All About the Bling Bling!

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How the hip-hop vocabulary is working its way into everyday use

Bling is everywhere. Its omnipresent fabulousness has consumed me. I work with bling. I wear bling. I’ve visited Swarovski Kristallweltn Gallery in Austria, the place where bling could have been born. I have a fish named Bling. I have already used bling far too many times in this paragraph. I thought Journalism would be a safe haven from the persistence of bling. I was wrong.

‘Bling bling’ is a journalistic paradox that has pervaded modern media. On the one hand, the term defines the ghetto-fabulous lifestyle of fame, flash, pomp and pageantry, which can only be sustained by seemingly endless wealth. But ‘bling bling’ can also ghettoize the medium that employs its usage because it can strip credibility from those who use it.
“Journalism is the leading edge of linguistic innovation,” says Paul Attallah, associate professor of Mass Communication at Carleton University. “They are faithful to reality and adopt [new language] to help define it, but it’s one thing to use it once or twice as a cultural marker and quite another to substitute it for the proper word.” Attallah thinks that this growing trend to use pop-culture slang discredits some publications that cater to a more sophisticated readership.

Surprisingly, incorporating colloquial speech into journalism is not designed to appeal to younger readers. Each publication caters to a different market segment and as a result takes a different approach to new turns of phrase. Attallah uses Rolling Stone and Time as examples. Rolling Stone would use bling bling as a credibility-seeking device, identifying it as in tune with the music industry as a way to connect with its audience. Time would use it as a signaling device, indicating a new trend to its readers. Marcel Danesi, a linguistic anthropologist at the University of Toronto suggests that the use of the term indicates to the readers that “there is a trend on the cultural horizon and we’re bringing it to you first.”

Publishers and broadcasters have been quick to adopt this new hip lingo. In most serious-toned magazines, bling bling is been buried in the back entertainment pages, but the odd feature breaks through. One example is an article by Howard Altman entitled “The King of Bling Bling,” which appeared in the September 2002 issue of the American Journalism Review. The term was used in a sarcastic tone completely in context with the story about a hip-hop flavoured ad depicting “Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej as a bling-bling hipster.” Bling bling has even been used to describe pictures in a cookbook as mentioned in an August 2003 issue of British magazine Caterer and Hotelkeeper, suggesting that, “…It’s very refreshing to see a cookery book with out ‘bling bling’ pictures.”

Legend has it that the original term ‘bling bling’ was coined in 1999 by B.G. (aka Baby Gangsta) of New Orleans rap outfit the Cash Money Millionaires. It was meant to refer to the sound of flashy diamond jewellery knocking together or the sound light should make as it reflects off the precious gems. Now it is a ubiquitous term that defines all things super-fabulous, including materialistic pursuits of luxurious furs and designer fashions, tricked-out Bentleys, a never-ending flow of Cristal and sprawling mansions swarming with beautiful, thick-rumped hoes.

a song entitled “Bling Bling.” Soon after, everyone from Shaquille O’Neal to Barbara Walters began to use the term. “I just wish that I’d trademarked it,” B.G. lamented to MTV News, “so I’d never have to work again.” A Lexis-Nexis search demonstrated that in 2002 the term was used at least 14 times in the magazine industry, a number that almost doubled to 25 times the next year, not taking into account newspaper and television usage. Bling bling has been in the spotlight for nearly four years and an article in the August/September 2003 issue of Toro suggests that the mainstream infatuation with bling bling has made it uncool.

“Only the readers of Toro would think that,” says Attallah, who sees the journalistic use of pop culture terms as a persistent trend. Danesi agrees. He says that new words are always being introduced into the mainstream and that bling bling’s use as a professional term may give it staying power. “Terms such as ‘bling bling,’ ‘whatever’ or ‘like’ emerge from teen slang and gets cycled into society,” says Danesi, attributing the pervasiveness of pop-culture terms in the media to the commercial focus on youth. “It’s not a new phenomenon.”

Bling bling will soon take its rightful place in the newly revised, 22-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Hip-hop neighbours ‘bootylicious’ and ‘jiggy’ have already received this prestigious honour. According to Attallah, the addition of so many pop-culture terms reflects a change in how the gatekeepers of language view their jobs. “[The OED] was once a guardian of language but now it is a faithful mirror of the day’s language.”

But when a trendy word has become so mainstream that it is added to the OED, it usually does signify the beginning of the end of its actual trendiness. Put it this way, if you mention it to your grandmother and she gets it the word is clearly no longer cool. At that point, bling bling will have certainly blung.


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