Word of the day: bling

When I was in the last two years of secondary school, I did History A-level, and spent quite a lot of time reading about the English Civil War, the execution of King Charles the First, the eleven-year Interregnum – the period of time when the country had no king or queen, and was instead ruled by various forms of republican governments – and the subsequent Restoration, when Charles the Second was restored to the throne.

I’d always thought I knew a fair bit about Charles II, who had a reputation for being a bit decadent, a bit of a playboy king! I knew that he had many mistresses over the years, that he was largely responsible for the creation of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and that even though he lived his whole life as a Protestant, he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.

What I didn’t know, though, is that in the series of Horrible Histories books and videos that my kids are currently obsessed with, he’s known as the King of bling, because of his enthusiasm for throwing lavish parties, buying lots of expensive clothes and jewellery, and generally flaunting his wealth. Bling – also sometimes called bling bling – can just refer to expensive (and unnecessary!) jewellery or shiny objects that people wear to remind you of how much money they have spent, so you might comment on the fact that someone turns up at a bar or club draped / covered in bling . . . or flashing the bling. Such observations are rarely a sign of approval, by the way, as they suggest that these public displays of wealth are vulgar, and that anyone who’s impressed by them is simple-minded! In other words, they mark someone out as a member of the nouveau riche, that group of people who have only recently made lots of money and are busy spending it on expensive and flashy rubbish in the hope that it will win friends and influence people. We also talk about such people being blingy or blinged-up, by the way, so it can be an adjective as well.

However, bling can have the wider meaning of any activity or possession aimed at showing how rich you are, so bling-related activity might include driving a car with shiny platinum rims, arriving at a film premiere in a hat covered in glittering diamonds, or sailing around the Greek islands in a ridiculously oversized yacht that could house a thousand people! Pure bling bling!

Recently, a gang of criminals targeting celebrities in Los Angeles and specialising in stealing jewels has been dubbed a bling ring by the media, a ten-pound jewellery advent calendar being sold in the supermarket ALDI has been described as bling-tastic and finally, in a piece of celebrity news that may make some of you feel we are truly reaching the end of civilization, some Hollywood stars are apparently forking out thousands of dollars to bling out their teeth with real diamonds! It’s a sick world!

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  • Are there any celebrities (ore other people you kn0w) who regularly flash the bling? How do you feel about it?
  • Do you own anything that’s a bit blingy? What?
  • Can you think of any other historical figures who have a reputation for being a bit decadent or for having mistresses?
  • How are public displays of wealth generally viewed in your country? Are they OK or are they seen as a bit vulgar?
  • What’s the most you’ve ever forked out on something you didn’t really need?
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