Manute Bol did not coin "my bad"
Over the weekend, I -- and many other blogging types -- were directed to an item on the Language Log blog from a few years back, suggesting that Manute Bol may have played a role either in creating or popularizing the phrase "my bad." He certainly was one of the first NBA players to be quoted using it, in early 1989.
I wrote something on it, as did many others. (Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.) And the logical end game arrived during Monday's episode of Around the Horn, when Bill Plachke offered his tribute to Manute, including this:
"Also, you might not know this, he coined the phrase my bad back in the late 1980s. Language experts have pretty much proven this. When he made a pass, instead of saying my fault, he would say my bad, because he didn't understand the language. That is the absolute truth."
Well, since I may have played some extremely minor role in us reaching that point, I figure it's only fair for me to do my part to debunk it. Ben Zimmer, who writes the On Language column for the NYT Magazine, just presented at least five "my bad" usages that pre-date Bol's first "my bad" quote, one of which was uttered by Rex Chapman, of all people. And one of these came in 1985, more than three years before Bol used it in print. Zimmer writes on Visual Thesaurus:
A playground origin is quite plausible, and it could have been percolating around pick-up basketball games for years before making it into print. There are anecdotal reports of its use in the late '70s and early '80s....All of this makes it unlikely that Bol was the first to come up with "my bad" when he began playing in the NBA in the late '80s, or even in his earlier collegiate days. Nonetheless, his natural ebullience must have done much to popularize the expression among his fellow ballplayers, despite the language gap. The big man's outsized personality made "my bad" his own.
I'm not sure if that's "the absolute truth or not," but that's the story for now.
See also, this updated post at Language Log.
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