I've heard that this in "the last ship" and that sounded like a compliment.What do you say?

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    That's an interesting question. It was news to me a couple years ago when a former student said I was a badass (her spelling). I queried her, because it didn't sound complimentary to me, and she said it was -- it means (again, her definition, which I'm happy enough to accept) a person who is independent and competent enough to do what they start out to do, regardless of whether it's popular, or even allowed. Oct 26, 2015 at 18:37
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    @JohnLawler Sounds like what in Britain (and presumably also in America) we would call a maverick. Though according to the OED in the US a maverick is an unbranded calf, so named after a rancher who refused to brand his cattle. Badass is not really in the British lexicon though we do have a lot of arseholes and silly arses!
    – WS2
    Oct 26, 2015 at 19:37
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    This covers the basics: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Badass
    – user144529
    Oct 26, 2015 at 23:06
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    It's positive, except when you add prefix "literally", in which case it means one literally has a bad ass. Please don't take my comment seriously.
    – Pouya
    Oct 27, 2015 at 10:35
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    @JohnLawler - in my days in the Navy someone who had risen from the enlisted ranks and gained his/her commission was known as a "mustang". "Maverick" is the dumb-assed nickname of a character played by a dumb-assed actor in a stupid-sh*t movie about a bunch of brown-shoes. YMMV. Oct 27, 2015 at 11:55

9 Answers 9


In the usage you described, the phrase "Bad Ass!" is an exclamation similar to "Awesome!", "Superb!", or "That's totally rad, brah!".

This is distinct from the usage of the term "badass" as a description of a person, such as in "Chuck Norris is a badass!", which is usually a form of legitimate praise connoting toughness, rugged independence, etc. However, the term can also be used sarcastically to demean someone, such as in "Look out, folks! We've got a badass over here!", which is commonly used in internet flame-wars against so-called "internet tough guys".

The positive meaning of "bad ass" or "badass" is derived from the somewhat dated slang usage of the word "bad", meaning "cool". For example, one might exclaim "That is one baaad ride, brother!" at the sight of one of these. Or, for another example, one might say "She's a bad mama jama!" to express that one finds a particular woman exceptionally attractive. Context is important, though, with this slang usage of the word "bad", as is the tone and inflection used when employing it in conversation. Since its usage has fallen out of favor as a go-to descriptor for all-things-exceptional, the term "bad" may be misinterpreted as a disparagement or criticism if not given the proper context or tone. The term "badass" is generally safer to use, mild vulgarity notwithstanding, as its meaning is not usually interpreted as negative.

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    Note that anything positive can be sarcastic. That's the very definition of sarcasm. It is impossible to come up with something that cannot be said in a sarcastic way.
    – slebetman
    Oct 27, 2015 at 3:36
  • This is likely related to the fact that "bad" (or perhaps "baaad") has, in the proper context, meant "good" since the 60s.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 27, 2015 at 12:49
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    Of course anything positive can be sarcastic. I included the sarcastic usage because it is so prevalent.
    – Dr. Funk
    Oct 27, 2015 at 15:05
  • Context is important, and so is word choice. It's instructive to note how many times, when we see someone in a movie or TV show described as "a total badass" in a complimentary way, it would also be completely accurate to describe them as "a total sociopath" or "a total thug," which all mean essentially the same thing but have a different value of approval attached to them. Oct 27, 2015 at 20:01

While it suggests someone who is difficult to deal with - doing things according to their own desires, standards, and timetables - it is virtually always meant to be positive. A badass cannot be intimidated or deterred, shuns compromise, lives life to the fullest, etc.

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    thank you. that scene was exactly like this (a little spoiler comes here: )) the captain makes a bold (and highly dangerous) move and pushes the fuse in electric panel by his bare hands and orders the soldier to turn on the power. that move works. and another officier says: "badass! badass! " Oct 26, 2015 at 18:47
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    +1 I've always understood it to basically mean "tough and assertive" Oct 27, 2015 at 10:28
  • "Badass of the Week" has many examples. The stories are told well.
    – Jasper
    Oct 27, 2015 at 23:42

Always positive. Although it's a combination of what sounds like two insults, I don't believe "badass" has ever had a negative meaning. The Online Etymology Dictionary traces its current meaning "tough guy" at least to the 1950s.

My observation is that using "bad" à la Michael Jackson to mean "cool" or "good" is extinct and has been for a couple decades, but "badass" is very common.

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    Unless of course you're using it in the phrase "Bad Motherf--er", in which case it's still a current pop culture reference. Although the phrase was probably first popularised by the early '70s flick Shaft (in the euphemistically contracted form "bad mother"), it was repopularised by Pulp Fiction and still quoted fairly often. Heck, I use it. :)
    – Deepak
    Oct 27, 2015 at 7:38

If you're talking to a donkey it would be a negative connotation as in "Bad ass! Do NOT eat the sofa!". Otherwise it is generally taken to be complimentary ("Dude, that was totally bad ass!") or referencing the perceived toughness of an individual ("That soldier is a total badass").

The often used negative to referring to an individual as a "bad ass" is usually just "an ass", or "a hard-ass" in the case of an individual who is tough on others.

  • The literal humor side of me enjoyed your first sentence...
    – ErikE
    Oct 27, 2015 at 17:20

I will only add to the above answers that, in addition to badass denoting a person (which, as has been noted, is always a compliment and denotes toughness, independence, and a general sense of "watch-out-for-this-guy"), the phrase badass move denotes a bold, decisive action, and by extension the word badass can be used as an adjective to describe anything or any action that has the qualities of a badass. "That's a real badass shirt" means "That's a very cool shirt."

You will even encounter the word "badassery" to refer to the quality of being a badass:

badassery. Syllabification: bad·ass·er·y. Pronunciation: /ˈbadˌasərē/. Noun, North American informal. Behavior, characteristics, or actions regarded as formidably impressive: few of us can attain her level of badassery.


The literal definition of a phrase with 'bad' in it would be negative. A 'bad ass' would literally be a donkey that is not good.

The connotation of the slang phrase 'badass' is superlative.


It's origins might have been negative, but in today's pop culture it is mostly used with a positive intent


I've been called a badass most of my adult life. I don't see it as a negative thing I see myself as being extremely independent very strong and I don't put up with bullshit. I'm not a Fufu kind of girl I'm a country girl and couldn't do girls get stuff handled. So no I see no problem with the word at all or being called one. My daughter loves the fact that her mom is a badass.


I'd argue that, like the word big, it doesn't convey anything evaluative.

Suppose I were a sports scout discussing a player with management. If I were to say he's big, the nature of the sport would determine the value of that prospect's bigness. If I were scouting for a football team, ascribing bigness to a player would entail ascribing something good to him. However, if I were scouting for an equestrian team, the opposite would be the case.

Likewise, the relevant circumstances determines whether the ascription of badassness to a person entails the ascription of something good to that person.

  • Usage of the term "badass" is almost always complimentary. If one refers to a person as being a "badass soccer player", they're complementing the person's skill on the soccer field. If one refers to a person as being a "badass" in the context of scouting football players, it is almost invariably a complement. The only exception is - and this really counts as an entirely different usage - when one says "so-and-so thinks he's a badass", which implies that he is not actually a badass, thus making it a criticism.
    – Dr. Funk
    Oct 28, 2015 at 19:33

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