Bling-Bling gets Oxford entry

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 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

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.”

Celebrity fashion stylist Alexander Allen, who dresses hip-hop stars Monica and Eve, says the term that used to mean shiny doesn’t necessarily reflect a sheen anymore. “It must be over the top for it to be bling-bling,” Allen says. “It’s a hip-hop term that’s been around for a long time, but it’s crossed over.”

“It’s been in so many songs,” says Tuma Basa, a manager of music programming for MTV/MTV2 who believes the term was an easy fit for the late Nineties, when the economy was booming. “Every rapper was talking about materialistic pursuits. Every hip-hop video had expensive cars with nice rims.

“At first I think B.G. was just talking about his jewelry, but now bling-bling is anything fancy and expensive, brand new,” Basa says. “It describes a part of hip-hop culture that does value nice jewelry, and looking good and fresh, and wearing icy-white T-shirts. It’s almost a symbol of prosperity.”

Of course, once something makes it to the mainstream it usually means it’s already lost its edginess. Bling-bling is no exception.

“I don’t think people use it as much from the hip-hop culture,” Allen says. “That term is pretty dated. If someone’s using it, you know it’s new to their vocabulary. You want to say, `Welcome to the word.'”