Mighty Red Pen

June 21, 2010

Whose bad? My bad.

Filed under: Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:11 pm
Tags: ,

I’m reading Dave Eggers’ book “What Is the What” and learning a lot about a lot of things, most notably, the conflict in southern Sudan and the plight of the Lost Boys. Among other things, I was introduced to Manute Bol, the native of Sudan who stood 7′ 7″ and played for the NBA. Bol has a cameo role in the book, and as it happens, he passed away last week at the age of 47.

So a hat tip to Gopher, who passed along this little tidbit about Bol: Evidently, he is credited with likely originating the expression of regret, “My bad.” According to a post on Johnson (the language blog at The Economist):

“An errant pass is often followed up with an acknowledgment to teammates: “my bad”, as in, “not your fault”.  Mr Bol was Sudanese and a native speaker of Dinka; it’s just the kind of thing a non-native speaker of English might say, and it was reported to be distinctly his in 1989.  It has since spread to other sports and general American slang.”

You can read more about this over at Language Log.


Update 6/22:  At Visual Thesaurus, Ben Zimmer explores this topic in somewhat more depth (h/t to Stan Carey).



  1. Ben Zimmer has a new post about this on the VT.

    Comment by Stan — June 22, 2010 @ 9:13 am | Reply

    • Thanks, Stan … I’m guessing this is a story we’d all LIKE to believe, but is probably just not quite there …

      Comment by mighty red pen — June 22, 2010 @ 9:20 am | Reply

      • I’d never heard of Manute Bol until a few days ago, so I don’t really mind where “My bad” originated. Knowing a bit more about the possibilities, though, has made me less averse to the phrase — not that I expect to ever use it.

        Comment by Stan — June 22, 2010 @ 9:24 am

      • Funny that you mention that. When I thought it was just a douchey thing that college sport frat guys said to each other, it had a lot less caché. Now it seems more interesting.

        Comment by mighty red pen — June 22, 2010 @ 9:30 am

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