Former NBA player, shot blocker extraordinaire, and humanitarian Manute Bol died over the weekend at age 47. He died of a rare skin condition caused by a medication he took while in Africa.
“You know, a lot of people feel sorry for him, because he’s so tall and awkward,” Charles Barkley, a former 76ers teammate, once said. “But I’ll tell you this — if everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it’s a world I’d want to live in.”
According to Language Log, Bol may also have originated the phrase “my bad”.
Ken Arneson emailed me to say that he heard the phrase was first used by the Sudanese immigrant basketball player Manute Bol, believed to have been a native speaker of Dinka (a very interesting and thoroughly un-Indo-Europeanlike language of the Nilo-Saharan superfamily). Says Arneson, “I first heard the phrase here in the Bay Area when Bol joined the Golden State Warriors in 1988, when several Warriors players started using the phrase.” And Ben Zimmer’s rummaging in the newspaper files down in the basement of Language Log Plaza produced a couple of early 1989 quotes that confirm this convincingly:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 10, 1989: When he [Manute Bol] throws a bad pass, he’ll say, “My bad” instead of “My fault,” and now all the other players say the same thing.
USA Today, Jan. 27, 1989: After making a bad pass, instead of saying “my fault,” Manute Bol says, “my bad.” Now all the other Warriors say it too.
Update: As a recent post on Language Log notes, several people picked up on this and kinda sorta got rid of the “may have” and the story became that Bol absolutely coined the phrase “my bad”. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support that theory (although it doesn’t entirely disprove it either). The internet is so proficient at twisting the original meaning of things as they propagate that Telephone should really be called Internet.