Let’s talk about acronyms. There is a story going around that “bae” comes from “Before All Else”. There are similar stories like this and all of them are wrong. Here are some of them.
“posh” comes from “Port Out Starboard Home”
“fuck” comes from “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” and so on
The problem with these explanations is that they lack evidence. Some words are derived from acronyms, like laser. And some common internet sayings are acronyms like lol, tmw (that moment when) and imo (in my opinion).
There is however, no evidence that “bae” came from an acronym. For a word to have come from an acronym, we would need to see some use of it written out in full. Like “That moment when….” or “In my opinion….” which later becomes “tmw…” and “imo….”
We don’t see that here. Another problem with the acronym explanation is that acronym explanations often come way after the term has already been popular. That is, as the saying goes, putting the cart before the horse. For an acronym theory to be valid we need the phrase first. We need to see it in writing and then we need to see it starting to get shortened into an acronym.
Lack of evidence does not in itself kill a theory, but it makes a well evidenced and more likely explanation hold much more weight.
“bae” comes from Black American vernacular. It is derived from “baby” (could also be from “babe”).
There are a few theories of how “bae” come to be and all of them have more evidence than the acronym story.
In Black American Vernacular (also called African American Vernacular English, or AAVE) words can become reduplicated. This means that part of the word gets doubled. So crazy becomes cray-cray, police becomes po-po and babe becomes bae-bae.
Once a word like cray-cray or bae-bae is established, it can change further by dropping the second syllable and become cray and bae respectively.
Another piece of evidence that it comes from the word “babe” is that people also write “bae” as “bay”. In this tweet, we see “bae” written as “bay” “going to breakfast with my family….coming back home to work on my essay for nursing school n going out with my bay later. u?”
If it was an acronym, it would retain its spelling so people can decipher the acronym. An acronym is not useful if you don’t use the same letters each time you use it. The spelling “bay” clearly indicates a pronounciation and connects the spelling to the sound of the first syllable of “babe”.
The word “bae” (or “bay”) was clearly established enough in the dialect of this person for them to use it in a tweet talking to someone else. The tweet talks about going out with someone, so even if you don’t know what “bae” means, you could quickly figure it out as it has a connection with the word “babe” and that way the sentence is written, you can work out that “bae” is a person.
Another piece of evidence is the use of “bae” as a stand in for other meanings of “baby” such as “baby brother”. Check out this tweet “And Max’s bae bro was down with dude from Spic N Spanish. It’s all too much!”
Once the word “bae” started being used as a stand in for “baby” it could have eventually evolved to mean “romantic partner” due to “baby” being used like that and once that happens, the sense of “romantic partner” could have pushed out other meanings.
This happens with a lot of words. “intercourse” used to mean “conversation” or “dealing with people”. “Sexual intercourse” was invented as a euphemism for sex. That euphemism became so popular that to most people “intercourse” just meant sex and the other meanings were lost.
“sad” is another example. It used to mean “heavy”. Eventually someone used “sad” to refer to a “heavy heart” and that meaning dominated all the others until now we only think of bad feelings with the word “sad” and the other meanings are lost.
Timing is also an essential part of finding the most likely origin. If an acronym explanation comes along years and years after the word itself, it is likely to be bogus. From an article by Neal Whitman, I learned that “bae” has been in rap songs since 2005, whereas the acronym explanations came along many years later.
Another explanation is that the second syllable in “baby” could have changed due to a certain speech pattern in American English that changes the “ee” sound at the end of words into “ay” such as “It’s gonna be may” from the Justin Timberlake song or “party” becoming “partay”. So “baby” in turn became “babay”.
There is an even simpler explanation though. “bae” could just come from people removing the last consonant from “babe”.
And all of these explanations have evidence and use linguistics processes that we see happening elsewhere in language and they are all more plausible than the acronym explanation.