Lynne Murphy’s new book, The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between British and American English, has a lot of insights and revelations, which I’ll have more to say about in a subsequent post. For today, I’ll just note Lynne’s inclusion of “bestie”–slang for best friend–in a list of British expressions. That surprised me, because it’s certainly all over the place in the U.S.
But she’s right. The OED says the word is “originally and chiefly British” and has as its first citation a 1991 quote from The Observer: “Diana’s friends often date from the days BC (Before Charles). Some are Besties—reliable pals from school.” That appears to be a bit of an outlier. The next cite is from a 2008 novel called Swingers, and that’s about when the word starts showing up in the Google Books database.
By that time, “bestie” was already out and about in the United States. The first use in the New York Times came in a 2007 Maureen Dowd column, complete with quotation marks and definition indicating it was new on the scene; Dowd referred to “Urbanista, an online Rolodex that dispenses advice for ‘hip’ girls in Manhattan, offering to be a ‘bestie’ (a best friend) and answer questions like ‘Where should I go to get my Marc Jacobs shoes reheeled?’”
The word appeared once in the Times in 2009 and 2010 and kept moving up: 2012, four times; 2013, five; 2014, seven; 2015, 13; 2016, 16; and 2017, 14. (The slight dropoff is probably explained by the novelty having worn off.) There’ve been three appearances this year, including a headline:
Kardashian Bestie Simon Huck Is Selling You Beer and Shampoo
I’d be interested if any readers–British or American–could recall a specific pre-2007 when you recall using, hearing, or reading “bestie.”