Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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.


  1. Not to try to be 2 humeros and I don’t want to be speaking out of turn or out of school but between you and me and the fence post weather the cup is half empty or half full it’s still 6 of 1 half a dozen of the other basic fundamentals and no knowledge of our human language most prevalent is using way too many words and way too many people become redundantly verbose keep it simple stupid our political politicians are the withering worse

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  4. wesisrad Yeah I always thought it was bad rep, but I’m finding articles that claim while that’s correct, no one uses it! #stupidgrammar

  5. elissaalvey i didn’t even think about that. i knew bad rap was related to a rap sheet but bad rep makes more sense.

  6. When I first began hearing this phrase and seeing it written regularly, back in the 70’s, it was “bad rep” which was short for reputation and used in that context. Unless you have been to jail or a product or location has been to jail, how would “bad rap” as in “Rap Sheet” make sense? Answer: It would not. Nevertheless, the term since has been co-opted by those that would wish to use the term in that manner.

  7. Haha that’s funny, UI found this because I read a blog with ‘bad wrap’ written, and had to double check it was definitely not that – wish I could remember the blog now to show you! But then, I wouldn’t want to give it a bad rap… rep… wrap!?

  8. I’d rather hear “bad rap” than “bum rap”, since the first thing that comes to mind from “bum” is buttocks. Then again, in this particular context….

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.