February 26, 2005

Overgreen my bad

Caity Taylor recently noticed the expression "my bad", which is apparently rare enough in England that she's never actually heard anyone say it (!). She suggests that "if this is to become widespread, then other adjectives must be able to be used in the same way, for example, 'my good', 'his stupid' etc.". While logically sound, this reasoning seems to be empirically false, since "my bad" has been common for years in this part of the world, but I've never heard any analogous expressions in general use. An "analogous expression" would be a possessive pronoun followed by an evaluative adjective used as a noun, referring to a specific event or action.

The OED calls my bad an interjection, "U.S. colloq. (orig. Sport)". The gloss is "Esp. among high-school students, used as an exclamation acknowledging responsibility for an error: ‘(It is) my fault!’ ‘My mistake!’", and the citations start in 1986:

1986 C. WIELGUS & A. WOLFF Back-in-your-face Guide to Pick-up Basketball 226 My bad, an expression of contrition uttered after making a bad pass or missing an opponent.
1986 UNC-CH Campus Slang (Univ. North Carolina, Chapel Hill) Mar., My bad, expression to admit one has made a mistake: A: ‘You did the wrong homework set for today.’ B: ‘Oh, my bad.’
1993 Orlando Sentinel (Nexis) 3 Dec. C.3 The Litterial Green Collection... Oops, my bad... A release from the marketing hotbed of America.
1994 A. HECKERLING Clueless (Green rev. pages) 104 Cher swerves..to avoid killing a person on a bicycle. Cher: Whoops, my bad.
1997 Parenting Sept. 213 Sorry I lost your CD. It's my bad.
2000 P. BEATTY Tuff iv. 47 ‘This is the June issue of Black Enterprise.’ ‘No, not the June issue, my bad.’

I believe that I remember hearing the phrase used in basketball games in the mid-1970s, though I could be wrong. In any case, there are some much earlier precedents. For instance, Shakespeare's sonnet 112, which accomodatingly provides just the sort of additional example that Caity expects:

Your loue and pittie doth th'impression fill,
Which vulgar scandall stampt vpon my brow,
For what care I who calles me well or ill,
So you ore-greene my bad, my good alow?
You are my All the world, and I must striue,
To know my shames and praises from your tounge,
None else to me, nor I to none aliue,
That my steel'd sence or changes right or wrong,
In so profound Abisme I throw all care
Of others voyces, that my Adders sence,
To cryttick and to flatterer stopped are:
Marke how with my neglect I doe dispence.
You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
That all the world besides me thinkes y'are dead.

Of course, adjectives are often in nominal constructions ("only the brave deserve the fair"; "we are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful"; "give me your tired, your poor"; "how do dolphins suckle their young?") so perhaps it's surprising that "my good" and "his stupid" have never caught on.


Posted by Mark Liberman at February 26, 2005 12:56 AM