Badder than old King Kong

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:


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.


  1. McGehee »

    2 June 2009 · 8:55 am

    It started with the use of “bad” to mean … um … sick? Phat? Anyway, the resulting confusion led to the branching off of the slang version’s suffixes from Proper English, so that someone who was using the “bad” to mean … whatever the hell it means could clear up the confusion with a little context.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  2. Lisa Paul »

    2 June 2009 · 12:06 pm

    I can’t even comment on the matter at hand as I’m still stunned by the news that Sinatra covered “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”. For a musical icon, he sure made some bad choices over the course of his career.

  3. Tom »

    2 June 2009 · 4:05 pm

    The feds are breaking GM into “good” and “bad” divisions, with the latter consisting of Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn. Of those four, Hummer and Pontiac truly were GOOD “bad” vehicles, with lots of displacement, power and testosterone, but I’m afraid that the administration considers them BAD “bad” vehicles, and are happy to cast them into the dustbin.

  4. CGHill »

    2 June 2009 · 4:17 pm

    …For a musical icon, he sure made some bad choices over the course of his career.

    Yeah. You try telling Sinatra his song selection sucks.

  5. Lisa Paul »

    2 June 2009 · 6:16 pm

    Sinatra’s lucky his vocal abilities transcended his often bizarre song choices. I sprung several hundred dollars to get a massive CD collection of the full Sinatra canon. Lots of good stuff, many classics but still some weird choices.

    But I’m in the minority, a Tony Bennett fan. Bennett says the best advice he ever got in his early career was to steer clear of silly and novelty songs. Focus on songs you thought would be classics. Therefore you’ll find no losers on his albums. Closest he got to a novelty song was “Jeepers, Creepers, Where’d You Get Those Peppers.” But he was backed by Duke Ellington, so Instant Classic.

  6. CGHill »

    2 June 2009 · 7:02 pm

    Sinatra-wise, I tend to focus on the Capitol recordings: he was in his prime, he had lush orchestral backing by the likes of Gordon Jenkins and Nelson Riddle, and he didn’t record anything as horrendously godawful as “Mama Will Bark.” That said, I have lots of the Columbia stuff, and most of the Reprise material (up to Watertown or so).

    Bennett was indeed wiser in his song selections, though I wish he’d allow some deeper mining in the vaults.

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