Wednesday, December 22, 2010

my bad, global edition

Manute Bol is often credited with coining the phrase my bad (see here and here, or here for alternate hypotheses). It has apparently made the jump, in some way, to international usage, it's just not clear to me how.

While watching The Girl Who played with Fire again last night, I noticed Lisbeth says something that is translated as my bad, but what she actually says is in Swedish, of course.

(screen shot from Netflix)

To my non-Swedish speaking ears, it sounds like she says mitt viel, which would mean something closer to my very, if Google translate is any help. Google translates my bad into Swedish as mitt dåliga (dåliga appears to be a literal translation of bad). I'm pretty sure that's not what she said, but I'd have to re-listen to be sure.

So, the linguistic questions are these:
  1. What does she say in Swedish?
  2. What is the history of the Swedish phrase?
  3. Is my bad the best English translation (given its history in slang and in pop culture)?


Bukvoed said...

To answer your first question, she probably says mitt fel, which means 'my fault/mistake.' Dåliga would indeed mean literally 'bad.'

I'm Norwegian, not Swedish, so I can't answer your second question, but my intuition about the third would be that 'my bad' is an idiomatically appropriate translation.

Chris said...

Excellent! mitt fel makes sense. Do you know if it that phrase is also associated with slang and youth in the way my bad is in English?

Ingrid Herbert said...

"Mitt fel" isn't slang, it's a common thing for every Swede to say when we've done something wrong. "My fault" as Bukvoed said. But there isn't really a slangy way to say it in Swedish. Excellent English translation in other words.

Anonymous said...

In Norwegian the phrase 'min feil' is colloquial and equivalent to my bad, it is used very much in the same way as 'mitt fel' in Swedish. If the connotations are exactly the same I can't say for sure, but I imagine they are.
'Min feil' is used among youths, though not only connected to the younger generations or slang. But I would absolutely consider 'my bad' to be the appropriate translation (without seeing the film)

Chris said...

Interesting indeed. The plot thickens as it seems the construction has such clear Swedish and Norwegian counterparts, yet entered English as an ESL error (or so the Manute Bol story goes).

Are these constructions considered grammatical? In English, my bad is technically ungrammatical, but because of its popularity, no one cares.

Anonymous said...

As mentioned earlier NO 'min feil' or SW 'mitt fel' are directly translated EN 'my fault'. fel/feil/fault at least seem, to the naked eye, to have the same etymological background, and must go back in time.
The constructions are absolutely considered grammatical in agreement with what Ingrid said..

Chris said...

A reader emailed with these thoughts:

The phrase also exists in Danish ('min fejl') and as in Swedish it is completely standard and grammatical. It translates as 'my mistake' more than 'my bad'.

Now, it is of course perfectly possible that the character in that film would have used a more youthful expression if a common one existed, so it's not that it's a bad translation as such, but I can say with complete certainty for Danish and some certainty for Swedish that the phrase has very little of the slang-y connotations of 'my bad'


Alon said...

As mentioned earlier NO 'min feil' or SW 'mitt fel' are directly translated EN 'my fault'. fel/feil/fault at least seem, to the naked eye, to have the same etymological background, and must go back in time

There's a common etymon here, but very different histories. Swedish 'fel' and Norwegian 'feil' come from Middle Low German 'fēl', from Old French 'faille', from 'falir', from Medieval Latin '*fallire', from Classical 'fallere'. English 'fault' is from Anglo-Norman 'faute', from Old French, from Latin '*fallita', plural feminine form of 'falsus', the participle of 'fallere'.

So there's no common ancestor beyond Classical Latin, which makes it unlikely that the grammatical pattern would be inherited as well. Additionally, French seems to admit "c'est ma faute" ("it's my fault"), but never the bare "ma faute" (my French isn't brilliant and French corpora aren't the best in the web, but a quick search through four or five of them gives no hits for the bare form).

We would need access to historical corpora to check whether the construction is calqued from English (or German 'mein Fehler'), or genuinely pan-Germanic.

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