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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.

By Dan Steinberg  |  June 22, 2010; 11:38 AM ET
Categories:  Wizards  
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Comments

Fascinating information, Steinberg! lol I can rest easy now.

Posted by: iubiquity | June 22, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

You may take away his catchphrase invention, but you'll never take...HIS...oh never mind

Posted by: dcunitedfan3 | June 22, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Today, numerous bloggers and Plachke are all muttering the same phrase: "My bad"

Posted by: MillBurray | June 22, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

the original Language Log post makes it very clear that he did not coin the phrase. it's right there in the 3rd sentence:

"It was nominated for "word of the year" (not that it's a word, it's clearly a phrase) in 1999, but in fact it was already at least twenty years old by then."

it then goes on to muddy the waters a bit with some conjecture, but the point remains, as always, that Bill Plaschke is an idiot. and "Around The Horn" is playing on 500 channels simultaneously on DirecTV's Hell package (Cable can't do that!).

Posted by: dimesmakedollars | June 22, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

your all wrong.I said it in 1969 at northern high school in baltimore.I was talking to my girlfriend and i said i'm bad and she thought i said my bad and said that was bad english.so I kept saying it to get her mad.after that every time i made a mistake i said "MY BAD" it took a while to catch on,but by the end of the school year everyone was saying it.wasn't bol on the bullets in baltimore..that's your conn.

Posted by: wtre428476 | June 22, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

i said it to my girlfriend in baltimore in 1969 i said i'm bad and she thought i said my bad and told me that was bad english.after that i would say it to piss her off and it caught on in school.didn't bol play for the bullets.There's your conn

Posted by: wtre428476 | June 22, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I, for one, am shocked that Bill Plaschke would spout an uninformed opinion with the bluster of a Category 5 hurricane as if all the scholars in the world were on his side.

Posted by: StuScott_Booyahs | June 22, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

your all wrong.I said it in 1969 at northern high school in baltimore.I was talking to my girlfriend and i said i'm bad and she thought i said my bad and said that was bad english.so I kept saying it to get her mad.after that every time i made a mistake i said "MY BAD" it took a while to catch on,but by the end of the school year everyone was saying it.wasn't bol on the bullets in baltimore..that's your conn.

Posted by: wtre428476 | June 22, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Wow, what a coincidence that the guy who invented it just happened to be reading this blog.

Posted by: Barno1 | June 22, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Bill Plaschke is a moron. At least your "bog" post (did you coin that?) hedged a little and used words like "may" and acknowledge conflicting reports, in addition to providing the source for the story. Plaschke just sees something written somewhere and says "This is absolute fact." I bet the majority of the research for his "journalism" comes on Wikipedia.

Posted by: grimesman | June 22, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I have a dated birthday card to my girlfriend that i didn't send that is signed "MY bad" sorry if that doesn't make you happy.that's all I have.the story is true.No big deal to me It's still bad english..lol

Posted by: wtre428476 | June 22, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I really don't care how true it is or not. If it will help people to remember Manute Bol, then all the better. If someone feels obliged to correct me on the matter, then I also have the appropriate response:

"Oh, for real? My bad."

Posted by: walkdwalk | June 22, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Beyond the embarrassment that any self-respecting individual with anything beyond an eighth grade education should feel at employing what is, no more nor less, a deplorable ghetto locution like "my bad" (is there anything more pitiful than white people trying to be black?) the deeper problem is a society in which too many people expend far too much time and energy trying to remain current and fashionable.

As a result, all the adoption of idiotic expressions like "ramp-up," "throw under the bus," "props" and "disconnect" (used as a noun) serves to do is identify individuals who are so obsessed with being perceived as "cool" that they are willing for their speech to be misunderstood, and be thought idiots, by those with enough education to know better. That those with the superior education are the ones who also end up running the world and its institutions should be no trivial matter. As a boss, I'm far less apt to hire someone who'd stoop to using "my bad" than someone who doesn't.

As regards my business and its bottom line and reputation, that's MY GOOD.

Posted by: Sage_on_the_Hudson | June 22, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm trying hard to think why anybody would care. They don't actually pay you money to write this tripe, do they?

Posted by: winsy | June 23, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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