Let’s get to the tasty stuff: what does bougie really mean?
Frances Turner had a word to unravel. “It seems foodie-related,” she wrote, at least that was the mystery’s context. “The article mentioned a ‘bougie BBQ’, complete with a list of bougie BBQ flavourings and seasonings.” You know the kind – teriyaki marinades and dukkah rubs. The tasty stuff, but what precisely did bougie mean? And where did the word come from?
Wrong-footed readers may suspect bougie to be a bungling of bulgolgi, literally fire-meat in Korean, that nation’s shredded dish of beef and vegetables, but Frances knew better. “Various dictionaries define bougie as pretentious, or middle-class wannabe-upper, an obvious shortening of bourgeois, but what’s its backstory?”
Bad and bougie: what’s the origin of the word?Credit: Jo Gay
Western Europe in short, a millennium back, when the local bourgs (or cities) evolved into craft and commerce hubs. Germanic in root, a corruption of burg, or castle, the suffix survives in places like Gettysburg and Hamburg. Offshoots too, like borough and Canterbury’s bury.
Ten years ago, when then-PM Kevin Rudd conceded defeat in the election, he thanked “the good burghers of Griffith for backing him again”, not to be confused with the good wagyu burgers of the Liverpool Plains that help distinguish any bougie barbecue.
Meanwhile, bourgeoisie, the label owned by managers and artisans, expanded to encompass the Middle Age spread of the moderately well-to-do. Karl Marx, we know, made the word his own pinata. He viewed this wealth-hogging class as oppressors of the proletariat, literally the offspring-class, the factory fodder and underpaid wallahs.
A far cry from chimichurri spatchcock on a bougie hotplate, so what happened in between? Leisure in a word, the arrival of hobbies and hedonism. As water mills became flywheels, and the blacksmith grabbed a snag at Bunnings, the social middle discovered the luxury of downtime, lending bourgeoisie the sheen of ease.
Nothing is ever so simple, of course. That said, copywriters twigged to the trend some 15 years ago, adopting bougie as a slang docking of its pejorative source. Dual-acting, the term alludes to both a self-aware cosiness as much as an aspiration. American realtors peppered their ads with the slang, while a Salon piece from 2014 declared: “Welcome to young, bougie, weed-smoking New York.”
Stuff, an NZ website, recently ran a kitsch piece about bougie candles, which highlights the word’s other muddle. Before bougie found its boogie as an adjective, the dictionary’s original bougie denoted a slender candle, echoing an Algerian seaport in Bejaia, the hub of Africa’s wax trade. Hence, bougie is also a suppository, plus a tapering surgical instrument: a topic assured to be your next barbecue-stopper.
Leading us to the deeper muddle, as Frances noted in her email: “I came across a rap song called Bad and Boujee released in 2016 by the Migos. It seems you can spell the word a few ways.” True, G is duplicitous that way. Soft G or hard G? That’s the enigma. We see an equivalent hoo-ha in the “jiff-versus-giff” debate besieging the Graphics Interchange Format.
Abbreviations in general can cause such headaches. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch has explored the conflicted spellings of such shortened words as casual (Caz? Cazh? Casj?) and usual (Uzj? Yooj? Yoosj?). Walking the streets, you may encounter a Boujie Biscuit outlet (an American franchise), while the next block yields a bougie flat to let. Admitting the mess, the Macquarie concedes “bourgie” and “boujee” as bougie alternatives.
Compared to making a teriyaki marinade – blending soy sauce, water, brown sugar, white vinegar, vegetable oil, green onions, garlic – our language is one complex salad. Best consumed with a large grain of salt.
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