use of "my bad"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Fri May 29 13:11:09 UTC 2009

On May 29, 2009, at 4:44 AM, Jocelyn Limpert wrote:
> Does anyone care to comment on the currently popular use of "my bad"?

we've had discussions of the expression on ADS-L before -- quite a bit
from nine or ten years ago, i think.  the server for the archives is
down at the moment, so i can't pull up the material right now.

but there are some web discussions.

  The first citation in print is C. Wielgus and A. Wolff's, 'Back-in-
your-face Guide to Pick-up Basketball', 1986: "My bad, an expression
of contrition uttered after making a bad pass or missing an opponent."


(though of course the expression would have been in spoken use *well*
before this; this is the OED's -- draft rev. March 2009 -- first
cite), and goes on to say:
  'My bad' came into widespread popular use in the mid to late-1990s
in the USA via the 1995 movie “Clueless”. This starred Alicia
Silverstone and contains what seems to have been the first use of the
phrase in the mainstream media. The 1994 'Green revision pages' for
the movie script has a scene with Alicia Silverstone's character
learning to drive: "Cher swerves - to avoid killing a person on a
bicycle. Cher: Whoops, my bad."


googling on {"my bad" slang} will get you a huge pile of stuff, some
of it silly.  but an AHD4 entry is in there.  also this 1997 Word
Detective entry:

  Dear Word Detective: I hope you can settle an argument between me
and some younger co-workers of mine. I am 33 years old, and to the
best of my knowledge, the term "my bag" means "my fault." You step on
someone's foot and you say, "Oh, my bag." It seems that everyone at my
job under the age of 20 or so believes that the term "my bad" would be
the correct phrase. Of course I explained that I believed that the
term was taken from "caught holding the bag," meaning the one who took
the blame, hence "my bag" equals "my fault." Please clarify. -- Keith,
via the Internet.

  Well, Keith, I hate to say this, but I'm afraid the kids are right.
I wouldn't be too disturbed about this -- after all, even a broken
clock is right twice a day, and all that.

  To be honest, I wouldn't be so sure about this question myself were
it not for the fact that there was recently a protracted discussion of
"my bad" on the e-mail discussion group of the American Dialect
Society (which is an organization of scholars who pay attention to
such things). "My bad," an exclamation meaning "my fault" or "my
mistake," evidently arose in the mid-1980's [surely earlier than this
-- AMZ] among players (primarily Black) in informal "pick-up"
basketball games. One player would throw a bad pass or flub an easy
shot and say "My bad" as a sort of handy shorthand for a more
elaborate apology. The term's transition to more general slang use was
apparently greatly accelerated by its inclusion in the enormously
popular film "Clueless" a few years ago.

  As to "my bag," it's been slang for "personal style or preference"
since the early 1960's, but I've never heard it used to mean "my
fault." And "my bag," which comes from the slang of jazz musicians, is
unrelated to "holding the bag," which dates all the way back to the
18th century.


there's more.


The American Dialect Society -

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