Is "My Bad" Bad?

So Alyssa Wodtke rants about how much she hates the expression "my bad":

'You CANNOT say "my bad" as in "Sorry, that's my bad!"--this is not a grammatically correct statement.'

Alyssa is far from alone in her belief. People are convinced their grammatical sense is as right as the law of gravity, when, in fact, preferred dialects are nothing but an arbitrary social construct. "My bad" is yet another expression that white kids have borrowed from Black slang like "the bomb", and "phat" in an attempt to appear cool.

Linguistically speaking, African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is just as regular and valid of a dialect as Standard English. While most people wouldn't dream of saying sexist or racist comments, many people still suffer from dialect prejudice. [Link updated 03/24/2004] It's not just AAVE: rural, Southern, Brooklyn, Appalachian dialects are all seen as less prestigious, less educated, than Standard English. Only British English is seen as better than Standard English.

I don't claim to be 100% immune from this dialect prejudice, but I try. Ironically, given my geekish tendencies to talk in complete sentences, I probably benefit from this prejudice, At least when I don't start revising my sentence assuming I don't revise the sentence in the middle of talking.

Speaking of which, a similar issue involves discourse markers, which are the "um" and "you know" type words, not to mention the repetitions and false starts that people use in spoken English. We all use them, but are often prejudiced against others using them.

Posted by Chad Lundgren on Thursday, May 30, 2002 (Link)


Posted by Shaun Saxon Tuesday, August 27, 2002 at 12:54 PM

Considering the atrocious rates of illiteracy in the United States, I'd like to encourage the development of expressions that are literate as well as unique.

I suspect that most people who object to the expression "my bad" also object to ignorance, baseness, and vulgarity in society.

I have no problem with people inventing new phrases, but I'd like to see those phrases reflect the best of humankind not the worst; that is, I'd like the new expressions be inventive, poetic, and literate.

Is that discrimination? You bet it is. We make discriminations among things every day. And I am discriminating here between what I perceive as base, vulgar expressions and those of excellence and ingenuity. As such, I have very little appreciation for the expression "my bad."

There are plenty of other dialect expressions that I do appreciate because they successfully combine the flavor of the dialect with a poetic style while exhibiting an excellent and literate form. In other words, you can create a unique expression in an English dialect that's both poetic and literate.

There's also a very practical reason to make your new, cool expressions somehow resemble Standard English. If someone doesn't hire you because you use the phrase "my bad," it may not be "dialect prejudice" but the fact that the employer doesn't understand what you mean and therefore concludes that you have substandard communication skills.

The same linguists that recognize African-American Vernacular English as a "valid" dialect also agree on the necessity of teaching students Standard English and the negative consequences arising from the ignorance of it.

So you can use "my bad" all you want; just don't expect everyone to understand you or appreciate your masterful use of language.


Posted by Roslee Friday, August 30, 2002 at 05:43 AM

What the heck is all the fuss over?? I find it difficult to comprehend the attitudes that people get when they cannot communicate in mainstream society. Not just "dialects" but also plain old other languages. As a nurse, I provide live-saving care to a great variety of patients. The attitudes that bother me the most are the ones that try to make ME out to be a bad nurse because I don't speak fluent Spanish, or enough Navajo, etc. Damn, last I knew I was living in The United States of America, where the dominant language was English or whatever variety. All too often these people I encounter with their attitude on too tight fail to understand that being a polyglot is not a pre-requisite to being a good nurse. Should I ever live in aa foreign country, I would not expect the natives to cater to my language needs. I would expect to adapt my language skills to my situation. Yet, I work with multi-generational families here in the USA who are not even conversant in "pidgeon" English. My belief is the same when it comes to dailects and accents so bizarre that one cannot be understood. It is one thing to have those in-jokes and such, but when dealing in the mainstream, you should learn the song and dance the dance. As a child I had to struggle to be understood because of a speech problem...I still stammer on occasion and still get tongue-tied. I took pride in the fact that I overcame my difficulties. Perhaps I am just getting to be an old biddy, set in my ways and way too opinionated for anyone's good, but this political correct c*&p has gone way too far for far too long. People need to get a life! ( previewing this posting, I realized that not only can I do a run-on sentence as well as the best and worst of them, but I do run-on paragraphs, too!! Chad....send me directions to the nearest 12 step program for language abusers!)

Posted by satori Wednesday, October 16, 2002 at 11:35 AM

I like your perspective, um, yo.

Posted by Bruce M Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 12:56 PM

And young people wonder why they can't get pass the FIRST interview for a job!

Posted by DK Tuesday, December 10, 2002 at 02:30 PM

When did we become so intolerant of people's differences? Embrace changes in language and its use. Please don't lecture on the use of the American or English language, It is not the best one on the planet. If one would like to know where "My Bad" comes from, try Gullah.

Posted by Chad Lundren Wednesday, December 18, 2002 at 08:33 PM

I heard the phrase "her bad" on Buffy the other night.

I can't wait until I hear George W. Bush say "Oh, that was our bad."

Posted by Em Jay Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 02:42 PM

"Bad" is just used instead of "fault"....would you rather people always said,"excuse me,that was my fault",instead of every day slang?.....I wouldn't.....slang makes speaking english more fun.....if everyone walked around using correct proper english,life would be as dull as whoever wrote this in the first place....there are times when one should use proper english,but in every day life?....please,no.

Posted by mt Friday, January 31, 2003 at 06:41 AM

Is this the underwater basket weaving forum?

It isn't? Oops, my bad!

(See that, doesn't sound so terrible, does it?)

Posted by Goss Friday, January 31, 2003 at 11:54 AM

First ran into this expression and from context would spell it - 'M I bad. Some has been caught in some error or infraction. They know they are guilty so in an effort to make light of the situation, they are rhetoricly saying "Am I bad?" or "Am I not bad?".

As an employer, I would not hire them because, to me, the expression is not an apology, but suggests an immature person who chooses not to be responsible for his actions.

We need more examples of extended conversations before we can adequately determine a definition for such an expression.

I agree in that I first heard the expression as one of Black dialect, long before non Black teens picked it up.

Posted by Jim Paget Monday, February 10, 2003 at 05:55 PM

I am a Jimmy-come-lately to the Free dance so bear with me. My pet peeve, speech-wise is the insidious and ubiquitous use of like especially from the younger generation:
Im like: who is this guy anyway?
or Shes like: well it wasnt me that said that (another peeve, not of the pet variety, is the use of that when the speaker or writer clearly means who)
Maybe Im getting old but it bothers me.

Posted by Leopold Saturday, March 8, 2003 at 09:20 PM

Like, you know, whatever

Posted by Leopold Saturday, March 8, 2003 at 09:29 PM

Being English I find it bemusing to hear American slang creeping its way into common usage mostly from US television programs. That's how I found this site, trying to work out just what "my bad" actually meant (and I'm not an old geezer!).
Eventually, there will probably be a common transatlantic accent as our schoolkids are already going around saying "Oh my God, like, whatever" and saying Zee instaed of Zed, and the accent is audibly changing. Words like "aligator" are starting to sound like "aligadorr".

Posted by yacrds Wednesday, March 12, 2003 at 11:31 PM

So it's not my bad if you say bad instead of bad. Just don't bad society if they don't get it. Whose bad is it, anyhow? Your bad more than my bad just don't go near the San Adreas bad because it would clearly be your bad if you get caught on the bad during a bad earthquake.

Now that's bad. Bad bad. Really bad bad, bad.

I think we should bad every bad word bad nobody bad understand bad we bad saying. Bad you bad this bad better? Bad if bad bad every bad bad then bad bad bother bad bad the bad bad. Bad! Bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad? Bad bad bad! Bad :)

Bad bad,

Posted by Brian Tuesday, March 25, 2003 at 03:44 PM

I thought "bad" was something you said when something was awsome or when you had been awe struck, asymally "that was bad" or "your a bad ass" That kind of thing. This new thing my bad and all of that was something made popular by that movie with those rich chicks I geuss the movie was about growing up or something I cannot completely understand as in being rich; the one thing I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that I know of no one black person who would use that phrase or any phrase that pertains to such and in fact those of african american decent find it derogatory in any ones venacular to say anything of the sort to them so not only does it show your ignorance but it also shows "were your coming from" and who you are. I'm not in any position to give advice(i can bearly spell it) but I would refrain from such speech in the real world and try and not to emulate a freak'in movie.

Posted by Dee Wednesday, March 26, 2003 at 11:15 AM

Sheesh! Lighten up a little bit! Everyone that I know has two sets of grammar. One for work and Grandma and one for friends and home. My teenager came home spouting "my bad" and I found it hysterically funny! Every society has slang words and terms. I would certainly never use the term in polite or proper company. Common sense is required when addressing any person. (I do agree with the "like" thing, though. It drives me up a tree!)

Posted by critical 1 Thursday, March 27, 2003 at 10:08 AM

my bad=mea culpa=me stupid=oops=x/ y gen slang=temporary glitch in communication=word ennui=oh bother . . .

~ critical 1

Posted by Mary McBender Sunday, April 6, 2003 at 06:03 PM

Overuse of "like" is second, in my mind, only to dramatic overuse of the word "goes", as in:

I ran into John and he goes, "So, like, how are you?" So I go, "I'm good." And he goes, "What're you up to today?" So I go, "Not much."

Etc. etc., in which "goes" takes the place of says, shouts, yells, thinks, whispers, and a variety of other words.

"My bad" replaces phrases such as "my mistake," "my fault," "I blew it," and other diverse options.

One of the great joys of English is our rich vocabulary, with many different ways to say something. French, German, Dutch, Norwegian, and most other languages have far less words, and thus far less ways to express themselves. I believe using one slang term when a variety of options are available is an example of "dumming down". I don't mind people using slang in the context of slang, but NOT in the context of English. It's as thought people aren't smart enough to learn words. I have friends who can only use the word "fucking" to describe everything (that fucking guy who fucking hit me so now I have this fucking broken nose...). COME ON, learn at least one more adverb or adjective before you fucking bore me to death.

And yes, people who use "ya know", "goes", "my bad", "like" and all the other slangs in mainstream English do not get past the first interview. It shows me they don't really care about thinking and learning.

My two cents...

Mary McBender

Posted by Hunt Friday, April 11, 2003 at 01:54 PM

"My bad" AIN'T so bad, heh, it can mean "my fault" as well as "my mistake", as Em Jay pointed out. I'll research it after I go to the "ATM machine" "between the hours of 4am to 6am" "in the morning", heh.

Posted by Allan Friday, April 18, 2003 at 01:53 PM

This is a great site, stumbled on my way to find out about "my bad", as many others, I can see.
I make it a point to speak and write directly without using "like", etc. except when I need to explain it. It's a conscious thing to try and break away from the norm or fad of the day, the way American society is and has been for some time. We all want to belong and whatever is the current usage is "in" and peer pressure to conform is enormous. Ironically, being "fashionable" was originally meant to "stand out" from the crowd. But today in practical terms, it effectively means the opposite. I do have one peeve, of the pet variety, as someone above puts it.
I can't stand the "upturn" inflexion that Americans affect these days in their spoken language. I know we all adore the Irish brogue, the English accent, find amusing the Indian sing-song, etc. but they're for the Irish, the English, the Indian. Can't we admire but not AFFECT such pretentious cutesy-wutesy crap? We already have an adorable American accent - it's Mid-Western, damn it! Or even Texan drawl or the Southern twang, etc. By the way, English is not my first language and I'm originally from Singapore.

Posted by Yves Tuesday, April 22, 2003 at 08:53 AM

This is a little OT I realize but I wanted to comment on:

>French, German, Dutch, Norwegian, and most other languages have far less words, and thus far less ways to express themselves.

I have to say that this is a suprising claim. Suprising and wrong.

Vocabularly size has nothing to do with expressability of a language. Just as phoneme counts have nothing to do with the expressability of a language.

Why? Because we have a finite set of words as it is. Yet we do not have a finite set of meaningful things we can say. Hence the number of words is irrelevent. (Do you really miss the fact that I went back in time and convinced Shakespeare to remove his use of "foobar" from Hamlet? ;-)

Now perhaps eloquence is impacted by vocabularly size, But I would suggest that even this would be primarily within a given langauge. Ie, I am probably more eloquent than an (english) grade school student, but it is unlikely that anyone would consider me more elquent than a published author in French or German, and certainly not just because I speak english or know more words than they do.


ps: Sorry about this being OT, I just happen to be a North American living in Germany. And I can tell you that the Germans are just as expressive as us, smaller vocabulary or not.

BTW: I showed this to my German colleagues here and they agreed with me quite strongly.

Posted by Heather Marie Nordin Thursday, April 24, 2003 at 03:29 PM

I agree that the English language is deteriorating rapidly. But who is responsible? It is not just the users alone, but where are the parents? I think that it is also up to parents and teachers to correct the use of such language as "my bad" and most of all, the word "like." These terrible words start out as "cool" words, but the unfortuate truth of it is that it becomes a habit after awhile. If WE STOP IT NOW than we will do a world of difference for the future generations. What is the world coming to when the Baby Boom generation, who are not even raised on such words, adopt the linguistic habits of their teenage children?

Posted by Ed Friday, April 25, 2003 at 11:53 PM

>>"My bad" replaces phrases such as "my mistake," "my fault," "I blew it," and other diverse options.

Posted by Derek DW Myles Wednesday, May 7, 2003 at 03:35 PM

I often wonder if it occurs to those that support and promote the use of this type of vernacular as mainstream that they don't use this type of "dialectic speak" in communicating those views to the general public, even to websites such as these.

Could it be that they recognize that such verbage isn't clear or acceptable to the average reader?

There is the real issue. When communicating we have to be on the same page, and as distasteful as that may be, rules of grammar aid in bringing a our points and opinions across. Though communicating using a language skillfully may seem "artful" in its execution, it isn't artistic in the sense that it allows unbridled freedom in practice.

If it did, we wouldn't be able to communicate effectively with one another at all, and with little if any ability to convey our views on what we believe to be just regarding the use of the English language.

That would be a very "bad" place to be indeed.

Posted by Rick Thursday, June 5, 2003 at 12:11 PM

When I first heard this used, about 15 years ago in Alabama, It was "Am I bad?" as a rhetorical question/admission of guilt. It make more sense this way than does "my bad".

Posted by Tricia Dearborn Thursday, July 10, 2003 at 10:46 PM

Hi. I came across this site trying to find out what 'my bad' meant. Or, to be more precise (because what it meant was clear from the context), if it really existed as a phrase and what its origins were.

I just wanted to comment on a statement in a posting by Chad Lundgren:

>It's not just AAVE: rural, Southern, Brooklyn, Appalachian dialects are all seen as less prestigious, less educated, than Standard English. Only British English is seen as better than Standard English.

To refer to 'Standard American English' (as I'm assuming this does) as 'Standard English' is misleading. I'm from Australia, and no-one here would refer to Australian English as 'Standard English' - it would be 'Standard Australian English'.

It may seem a small point, but this kind of naming perpetuates a prevalent image of the US as an isolationist nation that doesn't recognise the existence of (for example) many varieties of English, so that even the US 'Standard' variant is indeed a variant and not the international standard.


Posted by Alex Sunday, July 13, 2003 at 01:28 AM

I think "my bad" sounds stupid. I agree with the person who said that it takes the place of a wide varity of other things you could say. Giving the person an opportunity to use the newest dumb phrase, and perhaps look cool before their friends.

People always try to jump on the band waggon. Especially white kids. I wish I could tell a few million kids in my country to quit trying to act black. You'll never be from California, you'll never be black, you will never "grow up in the hood." You can say things like crew and hommies, and try to repeat something you heard on the last rap album, but it still won't change it. I think it sounds rediculous. Black people sound great when they talk, they sound cool. But someone who is trying to be something they aren't sound dumb. Just be yourself. Don't let TV, movies and music rule your life.


Posted by C Benfield Monday, July 14, 2003 at 10:18 PM


I'll assume that this board is html enabled and if it isn't, then please excuse my ignorance because my post will make absolutely no sense!

I found this thread (df: an ongoing online conversation) entirely by accident whilst searching for some Zen Haiku computer "stuff"

How come I gotten to "Faucet Follies>Main>Turd Polishing defies even my intelligence, but here I am.

The mere fact that this thread has a longevity of more than 15 minutes caught my attention so I thought I would add my two cents

As an English "brain drainer" living in America it appalls me to observe the ubiquitous lowering of educational standards in this Country

As a former employer in the Construction Busines, I certainly would never have considered employing someone who could not present themselves appropriately in a domestic residence.

Not to mention the fact that "decent" people have an "issue" with tattoos and piercings

Albeit, the "Times they are a change-ing" but the times 'aint' changeing that fast!

I will try to keep up with this thread. In my spare time

Posted by cbenfield Monday, July 14, 2003 at 10:24 PM

Oh yeah, and "ya'll" have some crazy scripting going on here on the site

Posted by Jester Tuesday, July 15, 2003 at 03:54 PM

Eloquence depends on the audience. Here is "my bad" translated into "Standard English", whatever the hell that is:
"I acknowledge my responsibility for my negative action or the effects thereof; if I have harmed anyone, I apologize and assure you it was not due to any malicious intent on my part; I now wish to continue the activity which we had formerly been engaged in."

You may not see it, but all of that meaning is crammed into that tiny phrase. Words and phrases have two meanings: their _denotation_ and their _connotation_. Connotation takes into account cultural references, folklore, and context, while denotation is just the straight and dirty definition. What many of you are failing to look at (in my opinion) is the connotation - what a phrase means to those who use it.

Language is an approximation of thought; that is, it's not all-encompassing. Ever have an idea, but have trouble telling somebody about it? This is what I'm talking about. To improve efficiency of communication, we develop a vernacular with those who share a common history with us. This helps us get our point across quickly and accurately by referencing ideas which are common to both parties. The goal is to get the point across quickly and with minimal effort so that we can get on with more important things.

Of course, you must consider your audience. I wouldn't use "my bad" if I spilled water on my potential employer, because A) they might not understand it, and B) they might be snooty about language.

Posted by Josh Thursday, July 24, 2003 at 05:51 PM

Hi there!

I'm from Australia and myself and many of my friends have been using "MY BAD" for months now. It cracks everyone up! and we also clunk! which is when you make a clunking noise with your toung on the roof of your mouth. It makes quite a loud noise. you do it whenever you are thinking the same thing as anyone else, doing the same thing, or saying the same thing. It keeps us all entertained!

From Josh, Australia. MY BAD!

Posted by Umar Thursday, August 14, 2003 at 10:29 AM

I think use of "my bad" is not so bad. Its just a new wording to express one's thoughts. Languages are evolving all the time. So we should gleefully accept it.

Posted by D Green Friday, August 15, 2003 at 11:34 PM

WOW- I was so sure that my daughter was saying the phrase wrong! For the last few years I swear that my team mates have been saying "my bag" when they screwed up. I kept telling my daughter that she was saying it wrong when she would say "my bad". Guess I was wrong.
So where does the phrase "my bad" come from. I searched a few lyric sites and found nothing. Is it from a movie? t.v. show?