Origin of "my bad"

WHat is the origin of “my bad”, meaning “my mistake” etc. I first heard this expression about 2yrs ago, and now it seems I hear it all the time. Where did it begin?


When I was in middle school (1989), kids would say “My bad” and sometimes “My bag” both meaning “My mistake”. I do not know where they got the phrase from. That is the earliest that I remember hearing it.

I’ve got an unprovable theory of indeterminate origin, that always sounded accurate, if apocryphal: “my bad” comes from volleyball.

Perhaps beach volleyball, perhaps the conventional type with the fetching kneepads, but somewhere in my minimal travels, I heard that this phrase came about as a terse, efficient way of claiming responsibility for a maladventure upon the court. Make of it what you will.

I always thought it was a corruption of “my bag”, with bag referring to the game of Spades. In Spades you bid how many tricks you and your partner can take. If you take MORE than you bid, each extra trick is known as a “bag”. If you get enough “bags” (usually 10 as I play it), your score is reduced and your bag count resets to 0.

An example of the usage:
You have the A, K, Q of Spades and the A of Hearts and the A of diamonds. Personally, I would bid 5 (or even 6 if I was feeling really ballsy :slight_smile: ) with that hand, depending on the number of other Spades and high cards I had. However, if I weren’t so confident I might bid only 3. My partner then decides that he can only take 3 based on my bid, so we bid 6 as a team. My hand actually turns out strong enough so that we already get 6 tricks before I start laying my high spades. I would then say something like “whoops, looks like that’s my bag” as I take the 3 other tricks.

(note: this is all anectodal as IANAE, nor do I claim to be - but I sure like that idea :wink: )


I recall using it in casual tennis (sometime between 1975 and 1980 in Boston), especially in the phrase “You ad, my bad”, used when I screwed up badly on a 40-40 tie.

(In tennis, you get 15 points per service won, with the game usually going to the first person who wins four services or 60 points [actually the scoring is 15-30-40-game, because tennis players are too lazy to say “forty-five”] However, if the score is 40-40, you must win two consecutive serves to win. If you win one serve, they score is “your ad” (advantage) and you either win the game on the next serve, or lose the ‘ad’ and drop back to a 40-40 tie. Crudely put)

A lot of my friends used that phrase, but I have no reason to believe that’s why “my bad” started since it seems to have dropped out of sight until the 90s. Still “your/my ad” remains tennis lingo today, and I’m sure this obvious rhyme was invented thousands of times on thousands of courts around the world. With most expressions, there is no single ‘cause’ - more a matter of casual usage building, unnoticed, to a critical mass before some media trigger sets it off.

This phrase has been a continuing discussion on the American Dialect Society Mailing LIst. Lots of anecdotal evidence. Little print evidence before the early 1980’s.

KP. I don’t doubt that you used the term when you said you did. But I can cite others who played pickup basketball and remember it from the early 1970’s.

Hard to square the tennis players using it, and the playground basketball players picking it up from them.

More likely the other way around.

This will be a hard one to find early cites for.

When I first heard it, people said, * 'm I bad?* (contraction of “am I bad?”) in a sort of childish, sheepish way. I’ve wondered if it mophed into “my bad” because of the way the letters slur together. Drop the imperitive, and the meaning changes.