Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Bling

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 8, 2013

Bling aka Roxanne “Roxy” Washington is a fictional character in the X-Men comic books published by Marvel Comics and first appeared in August 2005. Her superpower is having bone marrow that produces diamond shards which means she has exceptional durability. But where did the word bling come from in the first place, and who coined it?

According to an article in the Seattle Times on December 27, 2005 the term bloom was off the flower where the expression bling was concerned.  Journalist Robin Givhan of the Washington Post wrote:

The word “bling” has been overused by every two-bit jeweler selling cubic zirconium. It has been worn out by virtually all fashion publicists — who for the past five months have been chirping, “Bling The New Year!” — and by every morning TV host trying to make the umpteenth holiday shopping segment sound fun and nifty.

She went on to write:

It used to be that “bling” was reserved for jewelry, decorative wheel rims or gold teeth — all of it excessively flashing and extraordinarily expensive. It was a terrific term because it had the quality of a sound effect.

In January of 2005, the Guardian newspaper took on the subject of noticeable jewelry being worn more and more often by celebrities in an article entitled, “How Bling-Bling Took Over The Ring.” The teaser with the article enticed people to read more about the bling being worn by boxing’s most noticeable personalities.

From Don King’s diamonds to Mike Tyson’s ostentatious gems, only boxing rivals in the bling stakes. Thomas Hauser and Marily Cole Lownes trace the rise of the carat crunchers — including one whose smile is worth a small fortune.

A year before that in January of 2004, the Lake Superior State University of Michigan committee had already deemed the expression bling as one of the most useless and overused words, winning the expression a place on the “List of Words Banished From The Queen’s English For Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness” — a list that has existed since 1976.

On January 22, 2000 the Gettysburg Times published a news story by Associated Press Sports Writer, Ken Peters about the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA fans who loved them. The story was entitled, “Lakers’ Victory Parade Travels Through Scene Of Violence.” Along with the festive tone of the piece, the following sentence was included:

Bling Bling” was O’Neal’s explanation for the sound made when light bounces off a diamond NBA championship ring.

It’s a fact that the term bling was added to the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2006 and the Oxford English Dictionary in 2002 after rising in popularity in the English language thanks to hip hop culture.

Jamaican DJ Super Cat had a hit in 1993 with the song “Dolly My Baby” which was recorded for his 1992 album, Don Dada. It reached #64 on the R&B charts and #21 on the rap and dance charts. The expression appears midway through the song as follows:

[Third Eye]
Bling, bling! Who’s that with Supercat
(Third Eye!, Third Eye!)
Yes black, where all my troopers at
(Uptown!, Uptown!)
They got my back but I’m still strapped
Got the real phat, phat track for my ill rap
Black, ain’t no shame in my game, just because it’s real
You think I won’t scoop your girl, oh yes I will.

This makes Lil’ Wayne’s claim on the Outkast song, “Hollywood Divorce” specious at best when he raps:

Bling bling, I know and did you know I’m the creator of the term?

But in the end, credit has to go to the makers of Ultrabrite toothpaste who created a commercial campaign back in the 1970s that ran with the tag line: “Ultrabrite gives your mouth … [bling] … sex appeal!” Before the words “sex appeal”, a high-pitched bell would sound over the visual of a young man or woman smiling. It wasn’t long before comedians seized on what they felt was the silliness of the campaign, spoofing it in their routines by vocalizing the sound effect.

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