“You know I’m bad, I’m bad, come on, you know” —Michael Jackson, Bad
Around here, we love words, all kinds of words. But have you ever noticed how insults evolve to mean their opposite? Over time “fightin’ words” turn into praise—compliments that hold just enough of their original meaning to make them interesting. The classic example is “bad“—especially with a few extra “A”s to stretch it out to “baaaad”—meaning sexy, hot, not your Sunday school teacher’s idea of good. But rockers were by no means the first to turn “bad” upside down—according to the Oxford dictionary (OED), the first inverted use of “bad” dates all the way back to 1897. Here are 15 more common English words that used to mean something completely different.
“They messed with the wrong senior citizen.” —Bad Ass (2012)
Add “ass” onto “bad” and oddly enough you don’t get “naughty donkey” or “ugly butt,” you get… the tough guy: Clint Eastwood (Make my day!), Arnold Schwartznegger (I’ll be back!), or Robert De Niro (You talkin’ to me?). According to the English Language & Usage blog, the expression has a suprisingly long pedigree, describing the tough heroes in Westerns as far back as 1955. Now that’s “bad ass.” Make sure you erase these 12 surprisingly offensive words from your vocabulary right now.
“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” —William Shakespeare
Universal History Archive/REX/Shutterstock
Apparently “wicked“ started out as sinful in the 13th century, possibly derived from the old pagan religion of Wicca. But as anyone who’s ever spent time in New England can attest, it’s the perfect intensifier for good. Just check out Boston University’s Wicked Good Guide to Boston English. But like so many of these former insults, using “wicked” for “good” goes way back, this time to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great novel, This Side of Paradise, published in 1920: “‘Tell ’em to play ‘Admiration!’ shouted Sloane. ‘Phoebe and I are going to shake a wicked calf.’ ” Um…you go, girl?