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How To Be ‘Basic’: A Problematic Guide

Calling someone ugly doesn’t make you pretty, and calling someone ‘basic’ doesn’t make you complex.

When someone says the word “basic,” what comes to mind? At one point, the word was used to convey concepts that are simple: basic math, learning the basics, getting back to basics. The term was merely a necessary starting point before venturing into a more complex field. Everyone has to start with the basics, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Almost overnight, the word has taken on a much different significance. Ask any Boston College student for what comes to mind when someone says “basic,” and the first response will most likely be “pumpkin spice latte” (which has recently been given its own acronym, PSL). Other fall-themed things are also often labeled as basic: apple picking, wearing scarves with vests, and posing in a pumpkin patch. For some reason, being excited about seasonal changes is associated with “basicness.” If you say, “I love fall,” be prepared for confrontation from The Basic Police.

The Basic Police, I have noticed, is everywhere. It’s lurking behind you in the Chocolate Bar as you order your PSL, chanting “that’s so basic” as you pick up your delicious drink. It’s judging your meal choices—if you love Chobani, granola, or anything associated with the word “brunch,” you’re labeled as basic. The Basic Police are sitting on your couch, forcing you to question that decision to watch The Notebook for the 10th time or to watch Sex and the City re-runs. It’s hiding in your closet, ready to pounce at the first sight of leggings, a North Face, and boots—and if they’re worn together, well, you’ve just put yourself on high alert for basicness.

The Basic Police is no more real than the Beygency (just to be safe: I love every Beyonce song ever made). The threat of being called “basic,” however, is everywhere. If there isn’t someone physically there to remind me that my PSL is unoriginal, then the voice in my head will gladly do so. I try to ignore it, but it’s nearly impossible for me to say “pumpkin spice” without thinking of the b-word.

We have several associations with the word “basic,” but what does it actually mean? The word has been used by artists such as Tyga and Lil’ Wayne, and even merited a song from rapper The Game, simply called “Basic B—tch.” Urban Dictionary offers definitions such as, “Used to describe someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to.” More commonly, the word is heard in reference to a “basic b—tch,” which can be defined as “just an extra regular female” who “fulfills all the stereotypes of your typical 22-year-old white girl and absolutely nothing more.” It’s almost exclusively used in reference to females, and can be used as an insult or a form of unity. You can call someone basic, or you can accept yourself as basic, and unite with fellow PSL drinkers in shared basicness. A girl may even gladly offer herself up to the Basic Police: I’ve heard on several occasions some proud declarations of “we’re so basic,” or ending a sentence with #basic. Soon enough, Urban Dictionary won’t be the only one defining the popular term. If “selfie” was the word of the year in 2013, then the Oxford Dictionary better prepare to add a new definition of “basic” for 2014.

Even though being basic has negative connotations—it’s basically (pun intended) calling someone unoriginal who blindly follows popular trends—it has a certain appeal, as well. It’s harmless enough that it can be used in regular conversation, but it has just the right amount of insult to make it funny.

At what point, however, does “basic” become dangerous?

Calling a bunch of girls basic because they engage in stereotypical “female behavior” just perpetuates the stereotypes that exist, and adds an additional stress of being “labeled” as a certain type of girl. The only male equivalent to basic that I can think of is “bro,” but even that doesn’t come across as an insult. Not every girl who is called basic will necessarily feel insulted, but at some point, it starts to feel as though we are being defined by these physical things. It may just be a single word, but it’s a word that innately causes women to question themselves, or self-label to avoid being targeted as such.

So, next time you decide what to wear, don’t go for the leggings-sweater-scarf combo because it fits your “basic” personality—wear it because it’s cozy and comfortable. And don’t be afraid that someone will overhear your order for a pumpkin spice latte. Just drink up, because it’s damn delicious.

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor

October 15, 2014