bad (adj.)

c. 1300, "inadequate, unsatisfactory, worthless; unfortunate;" late 14c., "wicked, evil, vicious; counterfeit;" from 13c. in surnames (William Badde, Petri Badde, Asketinus Baddecheese, Rads Badinteheved). Rare before 1400, and evil was more common until c. 1700 as the ordinary antithesis of good. It has no apparent relatives in other languages.* Possibly from Old English derogatory term bæddel and its diminutive bædling "effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast," which probably are related to bædan "to defile."

The orig. word, AS. bæddel, ME. baddel, on account of its sinister import, is scarcely found in literature, but, like other words of similar sense, it prob. flourished in vulgar speech as an indefinite term of abuse, and at length, divested of its original meaning, emerged in literary use as a mere adj., badde, equiv. to the older evil. [Century Dictionary, 1897]

Comparable words in the other Indo-European languages tend to have grown from descriptions of specific qualities, such as "ugly," "defective," "weak," "faithless," "impudent," "crooked," "filthy" (such as Greek kakos, probably from the word for "excrement;" Russian plochoj, related to Old Church Slavonic plachu "wavering, timid;" Persian gast, Old Persian gasta-, related to gand "stench;" German schlecht, originally "level, straight, smooth," whence "simple, ordinary," then "bad").

Comparative and superlative forms badder, baddest were common 14c.-18c. and used as recently as Defoe (but not by Shakespeare), but yielded to comparative worse and superlative worst (which had belonged to evil and ill).

Meaning "uncomfortable, sorry" is 1839, American English colloquial. To go bad "putrefy" is from 1884. Not bad "fairly good" is by 1771. Ironic use as a word of approval is said to be at least since 1890s orally, originally in African-American vernacular, emerging in print 1928 in a jazz context. It might have emerged from the ambivalence of expressions like bad nigger, used as a term of reproach by whites, but among blacks sometimes representing one who stood up to injustice, but in the U.S. West bad man also had a certain ambivalence:

These are the men who do most of the killing in frontier communities, yet it is a noteworthy fact that the men who are killed generally deserve their fate. [Farmer and Henley, "Slang and Its Analogues"]

*Persian has bad in more or less the same sense as the English word, but this is regarded by linguists as a coincidence. The forms of the words diverge as they are traced back in time (Persian bad comes from Middle Persian vat), and such accidental convergences exist across many languages, given the vast number of words in each and the limited range of sounds humans can make to signify them. Among other coincidental matches with English are Korean mani "many," Chinese pei "pay," Nahuatl (Aztecan) huel "well," Maya hol "hole."

bad (n.)

late 14c., "evil, wickedness," from bad (adj.).

updated on August 19, 2020

Definitions of bad from WordNet
bad (adj.)
below average in quality or performance;
a bad recital
a bad chess player
bad (adj.)
having undesirable or negative qualities;
a bad report card
the pay is bad
the news was very bad
it was a bad light for reading
the movie was a bad choice
his sloppy appearance made a bad impression
the reviews were bad
a bad little boy
clothes in bad shape
bad luck
a bad cut
bad (adj.)
very intense;
a bad storm
a bad earthquake
a bad headache
had a big (or bad) shock
Synonyms: big
bad (adj.)
feeling physical discomfort or pain (`tough' is occasionally used colloquially for `bad');
she felt bad all over
my throat feels bad
Synonyms: tough
bad (adj.)
(of foodstuffs) not in an edible or usable condition;
bad meat
Synonyms: spoiled / spoilt
bad (adj.)
feeling or expressing regret or sorrow or a sense of loss over something done or undone;
he felt bad about breaking the vase
Synonyms: regretful / sorry
bad (adj.)
not capable of being collected;
a bad (or uncollectible) debt
Synonyms: uncollectible
bad (adj.)
so-called bad grammar
bad (adj.)
not financially safe or secure;
a bad investment
Synonyms: risky / high-risk / speculative
bad (adj.)
physically unsound or diseased;
has a bad back
bad teeth
a bad heart
Synonyms: unfit / unsound
bad (adj.)
capable of harming;
smoking is bad for you
bad air
bad (adj.)
characterized by wickedness or immorality;
led a very bad life
bad (adj.)
reproduced fraudulently;
like a bad penny...
Synonyms: forged
bad (adj.)
not working properly;
a bad telephone connection
Synonyms: defective
bad (adv.)
with great intensity (`bad' is a nonstandard variant for `badly');
we need water bad
it hurts bad
Synonyms: badly
bad (adv.)
very much; strongly;
he wants a bicycle so bad he can taste it
Synonyms: badly
bad (n.)
that which is below standard or expectations as of ethics or decency;
take the bad with the good
Synonyms: badness
Etymologies are not definitions. From, not affiliated with etymonline.