I know the the first time I heard the phrase “my bad” I was playing basketball at church camp. I was about eleven or twelve. It was me and this older kid. We were just shooting around. I take a shot, it goes in, and he goes for it after it bounces back toward me. He takes his shot, misses, and then realizes he didn’t give me my change.
He bounced the ball back to me. I just stood there for a split second with the ball in my hand. Huh? Forget the ball–What was that grammatically incorrect mumble he just shot in my direction?
“What’d you say?”
“It was my bad, dude. Take your change.”
I knew immediately what the phrase meant, and suddenly got the charm of it. Not “my fault,” “my mistake,” “sorry” or even “oops.” He wasn’t overdoing it on his apology, nor was he extemporaneous beyond reason. It wasn’t to express remorse, go out of his way to apologize for what wasn’t a big deal, or acting like it was an accident.
The language of it was so simple, so casual, so clear. My error in judgement.
And then we move on.
I don’t know why it stood out to me so much. So I’m going to analyze the junk out of this phrase. Plenty of new phrases hit us for the first time and we don’t analyze them. I think that it’s because many of our shortcut phrases end up being shortcuts out of being honest with language and the context surrounding it. We say “lol” when we’re not laughing out loud, “brb” when we are gone for a while, “wussup” when we don’t really care what is going on with a person.
Buy my bad seems to work just right. It’s an admission that we are owning up to an error, placed even in the smallest of moments, as if we’re checking ourselves on the little ways we may, consciously or not, end up slighting other people throughout the day. And the intentionally ungrammatical shorthand signifies also that it’s not a big deal, and we’re not too hesitant to say it.
I also felt maturely respected. The older kid didn’t speak with that paternal condescension that assumes I’m too sensitive and take everything personally. He didn’t bend down, put a hand on my shoulder, and be all “hey man, sorry I did that. That wasn’t cool, was it?” He was showing me he knew that I knew what was a big deal and what wasn’t. A phrase like that not only reveals responsibility and apology, but also the shared understanding that the error in question doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Sure, a phrase like “my bad” can be abused. People can use it as an incantation to absolves themselves of a dirty deed without actually feeling bad for it. We can say it when it isn’t really “our bad” but someone else’s. But I remember how respected I felt when that guy on that basketball court forgot to give me my change and apologized, but the fact that he owned up to it. There’s even this subliminal implication that I know I am a human who makes mistakes, and if you need proof of that, consider the lapse in syntax I just made following my lapse in judgement.
We need to own up even to the tiny errors. They put us in the habit of taking responsibility for the greater ones. We need to challenge what kind of person we are if we cannot look someone in the eye, confront a wrong done to them, intentionally or unintentionally, and without excuse, be able to speak and say to them, “this was an instance of badness on my part.”
A small phrase like that constantly reminds me how important it is to carry such a trait. Own up to your mistakes. Great or small. We want to tell each other, in turn, “your good. And because of that, you’re good.”
And if you don’t know the difference between your and you’re, that’s your’re bad.
Oops, I mean your. My bad.