Monday, April 28, 2008 | Categories: Q Blog
Remember how much fun we used to have back in the day? Of course you do. We were happier back in the day. We had more integrity. We had sensitivity, values and fabulous fashion sense. Music was at its best then, too. Yes, I'd say life was pretty fine back in the day. I mean, I think. I just need to figure out when "the day" was.
You may have noticed that the phrase, "back in the day" (BITD) has become all the rage. In the past -- i.e. BITD -- colloquial fads took longer to spread. Now, hipster kids, Gen X professionals, ageing rockers and well-meaning white people have all expeditiously begun employing BITD with aplomb. But it's an idiomatic expression that has become frustratingly unclear. There's certainly no consensus about when the true "day" took place. We only know it was positive. BITD is usually presented within the context of dewy-eyed nostalgia. But does it have any common meaning?
I've conducted an earnest -- and highly unscientific -- survey to try to clear up the confusion. I asked a diverse group of humans when they thought "back in the day" was. Here are some of the responses I got: the 1960s, the early-'80s, the '70s, the '90s, the '40s, the late-'60s, the mid-'90s and 1978. Further investigation led me to an Australian website honouring BITD as a reference to "hard rock music from the '70s, '80s and '90s." Right. Then I caught an 18-year-old using the phrase referencing a simpler period in his life. Apparently "the day" was around the release of the first Jurassic Park film.
Thankfully, I'm not the only one who has been wondering about BITD. A cyber-genius has created an online "back in the day calculator" (see happyrobot.net). It's based on the idea that using one's birth date we can discover the corresponding BITD era. This suggests that BITD is simply used as a misty reference to everyone's late-teenage years and thus varies with each person. But even the cyber-calculator is confused. First it told me my BITD period was 1997 to 2001. Moments later, upon trying again, it decided my BITD era was 1987 to 1991. Who are we to trust if we cannot rely on random websites?!
"Back in the day" is a phrase that emerged as part of the black urban American vernacular over the last decade or two. It started in hiphop circles as a reference to the nascent period of rap and hip hop -- specifically, the early '80s. This definition is found in the title of the stunning Jamal Shabazz book of photography of New York urban life in the late '70s and early '80s entitled Back in the Days and also in the name of a Missy Elliot song speaking to the very same era and the hiphop pioneers of the time.
Elvis Mitchell, a former New York Times film critic and the producer of a new documentary about African-American culture called The Black List, sees this as another example of hip-hop culture being appropriated and bleached by the dominant mainstream class. He refuses to say "back in the day" anymore and laments that it's lost all of its original meaning. He argues it's been overused into transparency. "It's the equivalent of the 45-year old white guy who uses the term 'my bad' without a trace of irony. I just want to slap the guy." Mitchell cringed when I brought up the issue of BITD at all. Back in the day it was so much easier to use such terms.-J.G.
So what's your BITD and how did you calculate that? Or are you on side with Elvis Mitchell?