Is It a Bad Rap or Bad Rep?
When speaking of someone who might be what some would call a ‘troublemaker,’ would we say that person has a bad rap or bad rep?
On the news the other day, I heard an anchor read a line about the South having a “bad rap” in terms of obesity. There’s some confusion over the phrase, particularly whether it should be a bad rap or bad rep.
The phrase is generally accepted, though it seems to have originated as a sort of mix-up. The original phrase seems to have been a bum rap.
If you think a bum rap sounds like the kind of phrase you might expect Edward G. Robinson to use in an old gangster movie, you’d be correct: the phrase’s origins trace back to underworld slang of the Prohibition Era. A “rap sheet” is a criminal record, and a “bum rap” meant a false accusation (or even a false conviction). Even when the charge was valid, it should come as no surprise, a guilty party might claim it was a “bum rap” just to save face.
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Eventually, the phrase’s definition became a bit more broad to cover perceived unfair accusations of any kind. At some point along the way, the alternative “bad rap” came into play.
But here’s the question that really confuses people: since a “bad rap” — or even a “bum rap” — easily leads to a bad reputation, why shouldn’t the proper phrase be “bad rep”? It’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s far less common. The Grammarist suggests that using bad rep could confuse your readers or open yourself up to criticism — or a “bad rap” — for misspelling the more familiar phrase.
No one said grammar always made sense, you know.
That website, incidentally, also points out the use of the misspelling “bad wrap”. I’ve never seen that one, but I’m not surprised to know that it’s out there somewhere.