If you’re a person of a certain age, you recognize “bad,” “worse” and “worst”; “badder” and “baddest” fit the scheme for comparative and superlative, kinda sorta, but they just seem wrong. Wronger than usual, even.
Then Jim Croce told his little tale about “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” who, you’ll remember, was “the baddest man in the whole damn town,” or at least on Chicago’s south side. I’m sure Mrs Muckenfuss, who had labored to teach me some semblance of English some years before, was thoroughly appalled. But Croce’s hit came in 1973; we’re almost a decade into another century now, and “badder” and “baddest” are everywhere except maybe The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Um, scratch that last reference.) I blame Frank Sinatra, who actually had the temerity to cover the song.
What brought on this outburst was the arrival of the July Automobile Magazine, upon the cover of which appear the following words:
31 PAGES OF THE FASTEST AND BADDEST CARS ON THE PLANET
Which obviously doesn’t mean “worst” cars, unless you’re Michael Moore and think GM ought to be making trains, fercrissake. I’m almost prepared to accept the idea that two different definitions of “bad” with two separate sets of inflections have resulted in two different words that happen to be spelled the same. Mrs Muckenfuss, rest her soul, would tell me that I’m lying, or at least lying down on the job.
Oh, and if you look up “worst” on Wikipedia, it redirects you to “superlative.” Go figure.