Bad Hair Day

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Tue Jan 25 08:50:32 UTC 2000

Barry Popik said:
>    I know that Jane Pauley has stated that she coined it in the 1980s on the Today show.  I'd talk with her about it.  She may have said it, not remembering where she had  picked it up.
>    An African-American origin appears compelling.
>    Ntozake Shange (who also wrote FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF) published the book NAPPY EDGES in 1979.
>    In 1986, Tawnya Pettiford-Wates (who had starred in FOR COLORED GIRLS...) dramatized NAPPY EDGES in Seattle.  One number in the show was titled "Bad Hair Blues."
>    In 1988, Spike Lee came out with the film SCHOOL DAZE.  One number in that film was "Straight & Nappy," a story about "good hair" and "bad hair."  Lee's film came out in May 1988, and the Houston Chronicle's "bad hair day" citation comes not far behind.
>    A check of the songs "Bad Hair Blues" and "Straight & Nappy" should straighten this out, or get this etymology out of my hair, so to speak.

It seems really counterintuitive that 'bad hair day' should come from 'bad
hair'.  As noted elsewhere, it does sound more like (bad (hair day)) than
((bad hair) day) in terms of the compound stress, but there's also a big
semantic gap between the two.  Having 'bad hair' is a condition you're born
into.  Even if you get it to look like good hair, you know it's still bad
hair because you had to do drastic things to get it to look like 'good hair.'
On the other hand, bad hair days are temporary conditions--acts of god, hat, or
those horrid shampoo/conditioner combinations.  I think it's much more likely
that 'bad hair day' comes from a more general pattern 'good/bad --- day'.
E.g., I'm having a good e-mail day but a bad train day (they're on strike,
dammit!).  The stress pattern works the same for these as for 'bad hair day'.
The hair version seems to have been lexicalized because so many people
identify with how the status of your hair affects the status of your day in a
global way.

I guess the way to test this is to see whether 'good/bad * day' precedes
'bad hair day' to a significant degree.  I don't have lexis/nexis access, so
I can't do much...

Lynne, who KNOWS bad hair days

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