Bling-bling, often shortened to bling, is ostentatious, over-the-top jewelry, designer bags, and the like, worn especially to indicate wealth or status.
It’s unknown where the term was coined, but it became popular at the end of the 1900s, when ‘bling’ became a feature of the Gangsta rap hip hop scene in the US, as well as in Jamaica. It first appears in print in the lyrics of Bling Bling, recorded in 1999 by the rap artist B.G. (a.k.a. ‘Baby Gangsta,’ a.k.a. Christopher Dorsey), on the album Chopper City In The Ghetto:
Big ballin’ Calhounie’s, you can see him when he comin’
Booted up, diamond up
Golds be shinin’ up, all them diamonds be blindin’ up
Some people have attributed the term to the old cartoonish sound effects meant to convey the desirability or shininess of gold, gems, jewels, money, and more. Musicians involved with composing movie and television audio and soundtracks often used a glockenspiel to signify the “bling” sound, the imaginary sound light makes when it hits a diamond.
“Bling” was added to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in 2002, and to the Merriam Webster Dictionary in 2006. These additions signify how common the term has become in American popular culture.
The film Bling: Consequences and Repercussions, takes issue with the fact that some diamonds were originally the blood diamonds that fuel wars, poverty, slavery, and killings across countries in Africa. Similarly, Bling: A Planet Rock contrasts the flashy world of commercial hip-hop jewelry against the devastation caused by diamond mines.
From a different perspective, many people consider bling and its aesthetic as empowering. I guess it depends on whether you regard bling as evidence of power or as a way of showing off. The female half of a newly engaged couple will often show off her ring to everybody she meets, but usually it’s not the bling she’s showing off, it’s her changed social status.
Shiny things look pretty, as any crow will tell you, but whether they are worth acquiring is something else. Think of the insurance! Shriek.