As I was meeting a friend, I was wondering where we should go, some nice coffee shop would be nice in the autumn windy day. Upon her arrival I still wasn’t sure, so I asked her for a suggestion.
‘Oh, everywhere except Starbucks!’ she said.
‘Well, I guess I don’t like basic stuff’ she laughed, ‘no, I am joking, I don’t like how much sugar they put in every drink!’
And here we go, we headed to some independent coffee shop where they put a reasonable amount of sugar in your latte, coffee or whatever you like. But one thought was started to nudge all the way long, what does it mean to be ‘basic’, or to be ‘basic girl’, what is the meaning behind it and why we use it so often in labeling certain people, what role does it play in our cultural understanding.
First of all, let’s look at the definition first, according to the dictionary the word ‘basic’ used as a slang word or adjective can acquire the following meaning:
1. (especially of a female) characterized by predictable or unoriginal style, interests, or behavior:
those basic girls who follow trends.
2. (of things) boringly predictable or unoriginal:
His lyrics are just so basic.
So, let’s assume that the closest definition is to put it simply “unoriginal “, a person who follows trends, music trends, fashion trends, tv shows that everybody watch etc. That’s not so bad, isn’t it, just a slang synonym of some dullness. But, let’s look a closer look at the definition, shall we? It says that it is used “especially for a female” , that’s something else. To name a particular character trait, if that can be even identified as something like that, and to categorize it as a part of particular gender type is more than sexism. I confess that I am not a feminist, mainly because the idea of feminism is so exploited nowadays that we no longer have a proper definition of it but a variety of different interpretations, but this is not morally acceptable. What they claim with that particular definition is that men are supposed to be identified as being ‘basic’ not so frequently as women. Forgive me if I get wrong here, but I was under the impression that the word ‘basic’ should have neutral meaning in regards to gender preferences, apparently I got the whole definition all wrong.
Moving on, let’s consider some examples of our contemporary culture in order to arrive at somewhat reasonable conclusion of what exactly means to be ‘basic’. I just decided to ask Google about it and I came across an article titled “50 Signs You Are A “Basic” Girl”, I am not going to quote all of them but the most interesting ones.
5) Singing drunken karaoke.
So, everyone who has never ever sang a song while he/she was drunk, please put your hands in the air! Nobody, I thought so!
8) Binge watching an entire series in a weekend.
Oh, yes, you who watched the entire season of Stranger things last weekend, I see you!
16) You love Netflix.
You and another 5 million people (at least!) so, don’t flatter yourself too much!
19) You workout.
Okay, so you say that everyone who workouts on regular basis or at least three days per week is basic, I will note that down!
42) It’s the iPhone or no phone.
I am going to whisper to every girl/woman on the street with iPhone ‘Basic!’, maybe they will get the gist or not.
As you can see the word ‘basic’ can be used in many situations for every usual activity you do, or any preferences you may have and you share them with many other people, imagine all the people who drink ‘Pumpkin spice latte’ throw a party, they should put a banner on it titled ‘Party- only the basics!”.
But before judging too harshly, let’s have a look at the theoretical spectrum of it, in other words, let’s consider the complex relationship between language and culture for a while.
Edward Sapir claims that the relationship between language and culture is intertwined and the study of the one cannot exclude the other, from which derive the idea of three assumptions concerning the relationship between both. One of the theories states that language very much determinates how we perceive the world.
However, the opposite can be true as well as the culture we share determinates the meaning of the language expressions we use. For instance, people speaking Hanunóo, a language from the Philippines, have four different words for black, white, green and red colours which used in different context can mean lightness, dryness, wetness, and darkness (Lucy,1996).
Therefore, it may be plausible to assume that our perceptions are very much dependent on our cultural understanding of the words/expressions we use.
In our case, the use of the expression such as ‘basic girl’ can be connected with specific cultural understanding. If we make a search on Google, among the results we can see a clear identification of cultural preferences of usages of this expression such as ‘basic white girl’. As a result, we see that ‘basic white girl’ identification refers to specific ethnical background , making the specification even more precise even in a geographical sense.
Hudson (1996) states that when we encounter a new usage of words/expression, we make logical connections identifying the type of situations we use it, the object it refers to. In our case, we have a whole web of association relating to the specific identification of the ‘basic girl’, haven’t we? Most importantly, we use the power of specific branding such as Apple and Starbucks as a reference in one way or another which deems the relationship even more complex and expanding.
In short, we not only use that expression, but we adhere cultural and brand associations to it. We use ethical, cultural, gender, and brand image references in order to create a particular type of label with the intent of using it mainly in a negative context.
Basically, this is what we do, from a linguistic and cultural point of view.