The year 2014 began with the a great madeup word, “Normcore” — the casual cool of being uncool — and ended with its new pejorative, “Basic.” Short for “Basic Bitch.” Oooh, pity the poor basic. She is a woman on a never ending business trip. Drinking pumpkin spiced lattes like she had constant jetlag. Zara suit in the meeting, Lululemon pants every other minute. Her cultural consumption is limited to Shopaholic, Nicholas Sparks and other gems from the airport bookshop. She is so, so basic that she is one of the millions of people who give top-rated TV shows their top ratings.
First, I will say that I love new words. Anthony Burgess said that slang is ”the home-made language of the ruled, not the rulers, the acted upon, the used, the used up. It is demotic poetry emerging in flashes of ironic insight.” But by now, “basic bitch” is like pumpkin spice: a little interesting the first time you hear about it, but mostly devoid of substance and slightly poisonous.
Casual sexism is an awful habit. A habit forms from a cue and gets reinforced with a reward.
It’s a shame, because at first I really liked this word. It wasn’t hipster, skank, douchebag, weirdo — no grownup schoolyard insults. But really, it was a handy way to refer to the grown up version of the Mean Girls.
Basic first appeared in the 1984 jam “Meeting in the Ladies’ Room” by Klymaxx: I’d hate to come down to their level and become a B.W. / A basic woman.
But the definition skewed a bit by 2011 when Kreayshawn released “Gucci Gucci”, thus becoming “patient zero”:
Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada / Basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even bother.
“You can smell a basic bitch from a mile away,” she told In Fader after her album’s release. “A basic bitch is just someone who likes what’s typical to like.” This was a word with a niche to thrive in.
It seemed almost handy at first. A basic bitch is someone who likes things that you don’t like (according to Elite Daily: “Her best friend Becca from high school.”). Everyone in front of you at the coffee shop? Basic. Your harmless boss with the email signature featuring an inspirational quote by “Anonymous?” Basic. That girl from “The Selfie Song?” Oh my God! That’s what she was!
But like most jokes, it doesn’t get funnier the more you repeat it.
Most of us try to avoid being casually racist. But we slip a little on being casually sexist.
Now you can be one for Halloween. The otherwise funny couple from College Humor went to the doctor to get her checked out. There are think pieces in BF and New York. Jezebel says it’s the female equivalent of “bro.” But as best stated in New York: “It’s all enough to make you wonder if what people actually are really interested in is permission to use the noun and not the adjective.”
Remember in the 90s when it was okay to call a white person who acted “urban” a “wigger?” That was actually never okay. It’s not okay to take the ellipses of “n-word” and change the “n.” If the ellipses of “basic” is “bitch,” then we’re just finding new ways to call someone a bitch.
That’s why it’s especially alarming that a “Stuff Basic Bitches Like” litany comes out of this troubling meme:
Because I would never use the latter insult to describe a person whose tastes I disagree with, I’m gonna pass on using the former.
Casual sexism is an awful habit. A habit forms from a cue (seeing a person you don’t like) and gets reinforced with a reward (laughing about them behind their backs). In those moments of your life that passed through your fingertips you could have done literally anything you wanted. Or just kept your mouth shut.
Here is where it gets the most icky: the purest definition of “basic bitch” refers to class-conscious behavior by successful young black women, as though it were an imitation of successful white women. I almost don’t even want to say that sentence. By calling someone basic, it’s like saying, “You’re so dumb you like the things black women like.”
Most of us try to avoid being casually racist. But we slip a little on being casually sexist. They are not the same thing, but their language is. In cruel humor you are laughing at someone. In this case, for drinking a silly latte flavor. (For the record, I would like to state that all “White people are like ___” jokes are always funny because you’re laughing with someone).
So see if this has the same feeling at all: “She’s a basic person.” Nope. “She’s a basic boss.” Nope. “She’s a basic girlfriend.” No. “Your boss/girlfriend is basic.” And what’s the word missing? Bitch.
“Normcore” was funny enough for while. “Basic” was not. “Basic bitch,” however, has quickly become the feminine form of “douchebag.” A meaningless, but blunt, insult to hurl. But “douchebag” is in the eye of the beholder.
This is important: nothing is offensive in translation.* That’s because we give words their meanings, and we take offense. If you tried to explain “basic bitch” in another language, you would sputter. “She drinks flavored coffee, she works out in clothes and has a good job in PR.”
The only thing you would prove is that you judge people by how they take their coffee.
*n.b. Although douche is French for shower, the French word for “douche bag” is “poire vaginale” — “vaginal pear” or bulb syringe. This means when you explain “douchebag” to a French person you have to get them to understand why the guy in the Ed Hardy shirt who cut you off is, in English, a travel-sized vaginal syringe.