My grown-up friends don’t use based in its new slangy sense, so I asked Veronica (whom I still think of as a child) what it meant. ‘It’s a Millwall thing,’ she said, chanting: ‘No one likes us. No one likes us. No one likes us. We don’t care.’
I’m not talking about the established sense, as in based on fact (generally meaning ‘fictional’) or evidence-based (which entails choosing your facts), but about a usage that has jumped in the past decade from the hippity-hoppity world of Lil B to the fringe reality of the alt-right.
Thus, in response to a newspaper headline last month about a black Republican politician in North Carolina — ‘Lt Gov Robinson: Heterosexuals superior to homosexuals, who serve no purpose’ — someone on Twitter exclaimed: ‘Holy mother of based.’ Another tweet remarked out of the blue: ‘Buddhism is kinda based when you think about it. “Go sit under a tree and hum for three hours straight you’ll feel great.”’
The new sense of based is said to come from the 1980s term basehead, ‘crack-cocaine addict’, in which base is short for freebase, that is, crack. Its transformation is claimed by the rapper Lil B, now aged 32, who uses a stage persona, the BasedGod. ‘Based was a negative term that meant like dopehead, or basehead,’ he told Complex magazine in 2010, ‘People used to make fun of me. They was like, “You’re based.” They’d use it as a negative. And what I did was turn that negative into a positive.’
I’m doubtful about attributing such a linguistic development to one man, but just as strange was the appropriation of based by cultish movements, mostly online. They took ideas from websites such as 4chan, started in 2003, where libertarian attitudes allowed strange and sometimes horrible stuff to be posted. Those attracted to 4chan included hacktivists such as Anonymous, hikikomori (a Japanese term for the young who follow a solitary existence in their bedroom), incels (the involuntarily celibate, who blame women for their failures) and the alt-right. Perusal of 4chan’s surviving sites is not recommended.
I doubt that the overlap between Millwall supporters and gun-toting internet alt-righters is broad. Anyway, they don’t care.