is well, just that. Its original meaning is still the most common one in use today: “not good in any manner or degree.”
But, come on, we all know
isn’t always a bad thing … in fact, using
as a word of approval started in the 1890s and was popularized in the 1920s within the jazz scene. There’s even a quote from a Run DMC song that illustrates our point: “He’s a big bad wolf in your neighborhood. Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good.”
People (and Thesaurus.com) have known for a while that sometimes being bad is really, really good—especially in the bad phrases below. Carry on.
Leather, motorcycles, mystery: these are the stigmatic indications of someone who is a badass.
Originally meaning an “unpleasant” individual in the 1950s, by the 1970s the term had become a designation of those who go against the grain, preserving their own originality while fighting the authority.
Steve McQueen and Joan Jett are just a couple of history’s badasses that paved the way for going against what was “normal” and embracing individuality, all the while pulling off an outrageous stunt or two that was bad … in a very good way. To this day, the prospect of being a badass is
cooler than being a goodie two shoes.
2. Bad b!tch
Separately, these two have some pretty negative connotations. But together? They’re an empowering phrase that many women—particularly in the rapping and hip-hop community—call themselves. Originally the phrase referred to female dogs that were inept at breeding good stock. By the1990s, the term began to creep up in the hip-hop scene in a more complimentary manner.
, Bebe Rexha, Rihanna—all self-proclaimed
that don’t take any nonsense from anyone. They’re strong women who know exactly what they want and how they’re going to get it.They blaze their own trails, even if people do think they’re, well, the B-word. There are even books on how to become one.
3. Bad boy
Today, all the nice guys gripe about how girls always go for the
. What’s the appeal, anyway?
WATCH: What's So Wrong With "Nice"?
Well, in the late 1920s, these gripers had a point—
was a denomination for young criminals (or, in some cases, a black person who rejects white control—uh, yikes).
By the 1950s, however,
took on a new mantle. People became more impressed by the
, the one who wasn’t boring or dull. Their “badness” added a bit of personality and mystery, making them exciting. Heck, there’s even a movie franchise glorifying the idea of being a
4. Bad rags
The 1970s were a strange time all around. Impeached presidents, sex, drugs, bell-bottoms … things just didn’t make sense. To add to the general confusion, the phrase
popped up in African American slang in approximately 1972. Aside from what you might infer it means … it actually was used to describe “one’s best, most fashionable clothes.” Doesn’t really make sense, right?
5. Bad liar
This may be delivered in a chastising manner, but think about it: if someone is a
, that means they are an honest individual. And honesty is always the best policy, right?
One of the earliest recordings of this phrase was in 1842 in reference to the “art of lying” and its importance in society (think about it). In 1864, the first Marquess of Wharton—an English nobleman and politician—even reportedly prided himself on being a
, or on having the bad habit of lying frequently.
It wasn’t until between the early and mid-20th century that the phrase began to refer to someone who lied poorly, referring to those who spoke with a smidgen of truth.
6. Badly enough
During high-profiled job interviews, during pep talks before major games, interviewers and coaches always ask the same question: “Do you want this badly enough?”
If someone wants something
, it means they’re going to do everything they can to get it. It motivates a goal of achieving something that’s typically hard to obtain. However, one of its earliest recorded uses in the late 1500s paired it in reference with a negative meaning (in other words, “not great”). It maintained this negative connotation until the late 19th century, when it was used in reference to wanting something in an almost desperate manner … but that was considered a positive. This is the meaning that has been retained ever since.
On the opposite side of things, if people aren’t
, that means they fall short.
can be just as fickle as
7. Not bad
This rather ironic phrase first popped up in 1771. Why “ironic,” you ask?
Well, when someone deems something as
, they’re stating something is actually quite good. In fact, that
something could even be rather impressive!
Emerging from African American circles,
has become a subtle nod of approval for feats of success that typically catch people off-guard. Why they can’t just praise us with having a “good idea” though … we’ll never know.