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Word of the week: Bipping
A cutesy word for a destructive act.
I’ve been lucky so far this year: My car windows haven’t yet been broken in a smash-and-grab attempt. (I am probably tempting fate simply by typing that sentence.) But the crime is so common in San Francisco, across the bay from where I live, that it has a street name: bipping. And San Francisco itself, once known fondly as the Cool Gray City of Love, has acquired the less-romantic moniker Bip City.
So what’s a bip? And where does bipping come from?
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Not from here:
San Francisco Standard reporter Jonah Owen Lamb tried to decode bipping in a September 18, 2023, story, ”Why Is San Francisco Called Bip City?” The term, if not the practice, may have originated across the bay in Oakland:
The Oakland Police Department has used “bipping” since at least 2017, when a police report made brief mention of the term.
“The ‘Bipping Hammer’ is street slang for a small window breaker tool that is used to easily break the window of a vehicle in order to access the inside of the vehicle or escape to the outside with little force needed,” an Oakland police report from 2019 said.
People commonly use that kind of tool, continued the report, to break into cars because it is “easy to conceal, is discreet, quiet, near effortless, and does not leave any sort of fingerprints.”
The exact origin of the word is unclear. Some say it could reference the relatively silent sound of a window breaking after being hit by one of these tools. Others guess that it may have come from the sound a person makes when throwing a shadow-boxing punch.
English words with the B-vowel-P pattern are often onomatopoetic or nonsensical. Bop (“to strike or hit”) imitates the sound of a punch. The jazz form known as bop is a truncation of bebop, a nonsense word that emerged in early jazz lingo. A boop is a more playful bop, unless it’s the surname of Betty Boop, the 1930s cartoon character inspired by Esther Jones, a Harlem jazz singer known for her baby-talk scat-singing (“boop-oop-a-doop”). Beep is imitative of the sound of a 1920s car horn (the word was first documented in 1927). And then there’s bap, “a small bun or roll,” documented in the British Isles since around 1600. No one knows bap’s origin, but it’s pleasant to imagine the word resembling the sound of floury hands tapping and flapping dough into a round shape.
Back to bipping, then. Urban Dictionary, surprisingly, has been slow on the bip beat. The only entry for Bip City—”just another name for San Francisco”—is dated July 23, 2019. An definition of bippin—”essentially just a smash and grab on cars”—was published on February 4, 2020. Earlier entries for bipping are unrelated to window-smashing. Here’s a definition from 2004: “Well this means to say oneself is retiring to ones own habitual abode.” And here’s one from 2014: “When someone is nagging or annoyingly talking to you.”
Bip City is the title of a song written by Bay Area rapper E-40 (wallet name Earl Stevens) and released in March 2023 by Adrian Marcel. Sample lyric: “Instead of bipping a window / He bipping a bitch / He got oil on his tongue / He talk real slick.” I am not eager to learn more about bitch-bipping.
What to call the omnipresent shards of window glass around broken-into vehicles? There’s a nickname for that, too: San Francisco snow. According to a CBS Bay Area report from June 2021, the term originated with business owners in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
Do other cities have slang terms for car break-ins? Share your insider knowledge in a comment.