is first recorded c.1300. A rare word before 1400, and evil
was more common in this sense until c.1700. Comparable words in the other I.E. languages tend to have grown from descriptions of specific qualities, such as "ugly," "defective," "weak," "faithless," "impudent," "crooked," "filthy" (e.g. Gk. kakos, probably from the word for "excrement;" Rus. plochoj, related to O.C.S. plachu "wavering, timid;" Pers. gast, O.Pers. gasta-, related to gand "stench;" Ger. schlecht, originally "level, straight, smooth," whence "simple, ordinary," then "bad"). Comparative and superlative forms badder, baddest were common 14c.-18c. and used as recently as Defoe (but not by Shakespeare), but yielded to comp. worse
and superl. worst
(which had belonged to evil and ill). In U.S. place names, sometimes translating native terms meaning "supernaturally dangerous." Ironic use as a word of approval is said to be at least since 1890s orally, originally in Black Eng., emerging in print 1928 in a jazz context. It might have emerged from the ambivalence of expressions like bad nigger, used as a term of reproach by whites, but among blacks sometimes representing one who stood up to injustice, but in the U.S. West bad man also had a certain ambivalence:
"These are the men who do most of the killing in frontier communities, yet it is a noteworthy fact that the men who are killed generally deserve their fate." [Farmer & Henley]
*Farsi has bad in more or less the same sense as the English word, but this is regarded by linguists as a coincidence. The forms of the words diverge as they are traced back in time (Farsi bad comes from M.Pers. vat), and such accidental convergences exist across many languages, given the vast number of words in each and the limited range of sounds humans can make to signify them. Among other coincidental matches with English are Korean mani "many," Chinese pei "pay," Nahuatl (Aztecan) huel "well," Maya hol "hole."
c.1200, "morally evil" (other 13c. senses were "malevolent, hurtful, unfortunate, difficult"), from O.N. illr "ill, bad," of unknown origin. Not related to evil. Main modern sense of "sick, unhealthy, unwell" is first recorded c.1460, probably related to O.N. idiom "it is bad to me." Illness "disease,
sickness" is from 1689. Slang sense of "very good, cool" is 1980s.
O.E. wiersa, wyrsa, from P.Gmc. *wers-izon- (cf. O.S. wirs, O.N. verri, Swed. värre, O.Fris. wirra, O.H.G. wirsiro, Goth. wairsiza "worse"), comparative of PIE *wers- "to confuse, mix up" (cf. O.H.G. werra "strife," O.S. werran "to entangle, compound;" see war
). Used as
a comparative of bad, evil, ill or as the opposite of better. Phrase for better or for worse is attested from 1390 (for bet, for wers); to change for the worse is recorded from c.1400.