Instead of hitting the snooze button a third time, she rolls out of bed. She walks to the mirror, takes a look at the messy bun that is her hair and tries to imagine what she wants to look like for the rest of the day. Her closet is full of clothes from Hollister, and Abercrombie and Fitch. All 20 of her favorite pairs of leggings line the shelf, and her Ugg boots are on the floor, side-by-side, ready for when she decides which pair to wear. She is dressed and ready to go to Starbucks for her Pumpkin Spice Latte, but stops before the door remembering to grab her North Face. Walking to class, she overhears a whisper from a group of girls, “She’s so basic.”
Since 1842, English-speaking people have been using the word “basic” as a descriptive term. The word means: forming or relating to the most important or the first or easiest part of something, not including anything extra, according to Merriam-Webster.
Plattsburgh State Adjunct Butterfly Blaise defined the word as “simple, with little preparation, and with easy access.”
The word has taken on a broader meaning than its original definition. College students have been inspired to use the word “basic” as an adjective to describe people since 2009, according to the archives of Urban Dictionary.
A survey of 25 PSUC students showed that they all claimed the word has been trending. It has become something more than what Merriam-Webster has defined.
The most commonly used terms by these students to describe the word in its new definition were: boring, ordinary, dull, simple, normal, average and plain.
Sophomore Megan Rea said, “If you’re not unique — you’re basic.” Junior Connor Swanson said, “If you have no redeeming qualities — you’re basic.” One of the more popular comments was: “If you don’t stand out — you’re basic.”
“If you’re not willing to break the mold, you’re going to do what everyone else is doing and you’re not going to do your own thing — you’re basic,” PSUC senior Christine O’Gara said.
More than half of the group surveyed mentioned Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes while being asked what the word means to them.
“You need those people to be the foundation of life,” PSUC senior Olivia Cahill said. “Who else is going to buy the pumpkin spice lattes in the world?”
Clothing was also a major aspect when attempting to define the term. For example, if a female wears a North Face jacket, Uggs and leggings, she falls under the broad category that is “basic.”
One group of PSUC students agreed it is not just females described by the term. Males have the capacity to be “basic” as well. That group said “basic” males wear snapbacks and high socks with Adidas flip flops or boat shoes, and their primary mode of transportation on campus is the longboard.
“Nobody says ‘oh, you’re basic’ and tries to be hateful,” PSUC junior Erik Imperato said.
Blaise doesn’t take the word so lightly. There are many terms in the English language that have negative impact on the people they describe.
“I find it just as threatening and demeaning as other terms that people would know,” she said. “If what you are doing to bond with a group is causing harm to one person, then it isn’t positive.”
Blaise, a Gender and Women’s Studies instructor, noted she has seen and heard the term being used in a derogatory context. The first time she recognized the word with a negative connotation was on an adult’s social media page.
“My immediate reaction was complete disgust,” she said. “The comment conveys to me that the person making the statement cannot articulate what the real issue is.”
Blaise believes words or phrases like “basic” have a negative impact and catch on thanks to the influence of social groups. If an individual is accepted by one group, they will be more likely to use language the group uses. She said it doesn’t matter if they believe it’s right or wrong because the person doesn’t want to be excluded. She believes individuals are constantly struggling to be accepted.
She said if she heard the word being used, she would address the person and try to get some understanding of what point they are really trying to convey.
“The comment conveys to me that the person making the statement cannot articulate what the real issue is,” she said. “It diminishes them, not the person they were pointing it to.”
Email Lisa Scivolette at firstname.lastname@example.org.