General English

  • adjective causing problems, or likely to cause problems
  • adjective of poor quality or skill
  • adjective unpleasant
  • adjective serious


  • adjective deteriorated in quality to the point of being unfit to eat or drink


  • adjective good. Originally from the terminology of the poorest black Americans, either as simple irony or based on the assumption that what is bad in the eyes of the white establishment is good for them, this usage spread via jazz musicians in the 1950s to teenagers in the 1970s. It is still primarily a black term, although it is occasionally used, rather self-consciously, by white teenagers in the USA and, under the influence of rap and hip hop, in Britain since the early 1980s. This use of bad is normally distinguished from its opposite, literal meaning by a long drawn-out pronunciation. The superlative form is ‘baddest’.
  • noun a fault, mistake. A key item of black street slang that was adopted by white adolescents in the 1990s, usually in the form ‘my bad!’, an acknowledgment of guilt or blame.

Origin & History of “bad”

For such a common word, bad has a remarkably clouded history. It does not begin to appear in English until the end of the 13th century, and has no apparent relatives in other languages (the uncanny resemblance to Persian bad is purely coincidental). The few clues we have suggest a regrettably homophobic origin. Old English had a pair of words, bǣddel and bǣdling, which appear to have been derogatory terms for homosexuals, with overtones of sodomy. The fact that the first examples we have of bad, from the late 13th and early 14th centuries, are in the sense ‘contemptible, worthless’ as applied to people indicates that the connotations of moral depravity may have become generalized from an earlier, specifically anti-homosexual sense.