bad guys

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Dec 4 16:35:44 UTC 2006

I would hope so.  But leaving that aside, the complementary "good guys," which would say outright that "we're good," is (interestingly?) not commonly used.

  If the historical record can be trusted at all, this pair of antonyms enjoyed virtually no currency at all before the Cold War. Yet Americans fought both world wars without much doubt that our side was the "good guys." The apparent lexical dichotomy seems inconsequential to me.

  My SWAG about "bad/ good guy" is that the threat of global nuclear war during the '50s and '60s was so unprecedentedly deep-down frightening that military personnel were more likely than before to trivialize real and potential enemy forces jocularly as "the bad guys," as though it were all just a kid's game of cowboys and Indians. "Bad guys" sounds so much more familiar and manageable than, say, "Soviet Strategic Intercontinental Missile Forces" or even "People's Army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam."

  I doubt that the usage affected or affects professional appreciation of reality in any significant way.


Beverly Flanigan <flanigan at OHIO.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Beverly Flanigan
Subject: Re: bad guys

OK, I didn't remember that. But my dislike of the term is that it is so
simplistic, so Manichean--if they're bad, then we must be good, right?

At 09:47 AM 12/4/2006, you wrote:
>"Bad guys" was in frequent use during the unpleasantness in SE Asia.
>See HDAS.
> In a world where "enemy" is a designation that may be fading from
>popular use, "bad guys" usefully distinguishes such persons from
>friendlier Vietnamese, Iraqis, etc.
> JL
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