That is not exactly the same in Trinidad. When kids in school say, “Sir, dat fella is the baddest boy in the class. He always looking for fight,” they mean exactly that. Yet, if ‘bad’ is said with a pleasant smiling face and the right intonation, it could mean ‘good.’ In the sentence, “Yes, man. Our girls are playing football real bad.”
Before we go any further, let’s look at the etymology of the word. “Bad” is derived from 13th century Old English words “baeddel” and “baedling” which mean “hermaphrodite” and “sodomite” respectively. By no means a pretty picture from the very beginning.
We say “BarJohn” to mean a bad-tempered rough troublesome violent person. There really was an Afro-Barbadian born ex-soldier, ex-Panama Canal worker and ex-revolutionist who stowed away on the SS Don and ended up in Trinidad in 1887. That man, John Archer, a wharf worker attended church regularly and once saved three persons from drowning. But he was a rum-drinking character, always using obscene language and involved in street fights. The “marish and parish” referred to him as “BarJohn”. When John drowned at age 62, he had 119 criminal convictions.
Once in primary school, the class was shuffled for term test and a “bad John” was placed next to me. I was hiding my work from him with one hand and he muttered, “Yo better move yo han or I go buss you tail after school.” The actual word he used for “tail” is unprintable. He was one of the ‘dunces’ who had stayed down in standard three for two years. The next day, the teacher called him a “big old ugly fool” and blazed his skin with a guava whip because he had copied everything on my page — even my name.
An old expression, “Two bad jumbies never walk for long,” tells us that two wicked persons would never get along well for any length of time. We have this one, “Don’t sit by the river and talk the river bad,” which advises us to be grateful. To console someone who had an unfortunate experience, the old folks used to say, “Bad lucky eh danger.” In other words, “You’re just unlucky. That’s all. You not in any serious trouble.”
We have a number of short phrases such as “bad talk”, “bad mouth,” “bad skylark,” “bad fatigue,” “bad eye,” “bad feelings”, “bad lucky,” “bad mind” and cricketers will tell you “bad out.”
We must not leave out “bad drive”. I have been driving for 46 years now and I have never given anyone a “bad drive” willingly. Once on the Cocorite Road, my wing mirror touched a taxi driver’s car. I went on driving and suddenly the taxi driver sped and stopped right in front of me. He came out and walked towards me with his face in beast like a real bad John. “Why the so and so you din look way you going. Yo old so and so.” And so he went on and on.
Eventually, he stopped. I had taken all the verbal abuse silently. I said, “I know I am wrong. The space was too narrow to pass. Sorry about that. How much would it cost to repair the damage?” He was taken aback, in a low voice he muttered, ‘Daz alright man. It eh nutten much.” He dashed back to his car and raced away. I thought of the number of times, drivers, have hit my car accidentally and all I did was to tell them to be more careful and take their time.
Once a criminologist was talking about bad Johns and he asked his listeners, “Why is it that most serial killers are men?” An old lady in the audience answered, “Most women prefer to kill one man slowly over a long period of time.”