Millenials and those who have caught the bug can relate to making use of insulting words as compliments but when should you not cross the line?
A term for “looking criminally good.” Men who exploit prostitutes have long been known as flashy dressers all over the globe, and according to Merriam-Webster, they were first called “pimps” in 1701.
However, it is only in the English language that “pimp” has become a tongue-in-cheek synonym for upgrading something to excess, as in the reality TV show Pimp My Ride.
This phrase is a classic example—especially with a few extra “A”s to stretch it out to “baaaad”—meaning sexy, hot, but definitely not your Sunday school teacher’s idea of good. As it turns out, the first inverted use of “bad” dates all the way back to 1897!
Add “ass” onto “bad” and oddly enough you don’t get “naughty donkey” or “ugly butt,” you get… the tough guy: Arnold Schwartznegger (I’ll be back!), or Robert De Niro (You talkin’ to me?).
The expression has a suprisingly long pedigree, describing the tough heroes in Westerns as far back as 1955. Now that’s “bad ass.”
Apparently “wicked“ started out as sinful in the 13th century, possibly derived from the old pagan religion of Wicca. But it has turned out to be the perfect intensifier for good. But like so many of these former insults, using “wicked” for “good” goes way back.
Like “wicked” but far more widely used, “mad” has morphed from its old negative meaning (crazy) to something favourable, way beyond the TV hit Mad Men. It’s an intensifier for words like good, hard, easy, or, most commonly skills (or even skillz).
The new use of “mad” has actually moved closer to its original medieval definition, which was “violent excitement ” or “being beside oneself with enthusiasm.” By the 19th century, the adjective became a synonym for crazy in England, whereas in America it became a colloquialism for “angry.”
There’s no consensus about when and how “mad” gained its current status, but it’s associated with gangsta culture (see below), skateboarders, and online gamers.
Even for English, this word has a complicated history. The Chicago Tribune says “gang” was used for criminal groups as early as the 17th century, and, according to Merriam-Webster, it turned into an epithet circa 1884, when a lot of words received the same “er” ending (such ad “trickster” or “hipster”).
“Gangster” was originally used only for members of the Italian mafia, but when American street gangs like the Crips and the Bloods adopted it in the 1970s, the word lost its final “r” and became a term of approval for tough, confrontational style.