Five years ago, Geoff Pullum wrote a post here entitled, "Pick-up basketballism reaches Ivy League faculty vocabulary," about the spread of the apologetic interjection "my bad." In an addendum, Geoff raised the possibility that Manute Bol had popularized or even originated the expression while in the NBA in the late '80s (or a bit earlier, in his days playing ball in college). I had sent Geoff a bit of supporting evidence, two snippets from newspaper articles in early 1989 talking about Bol's use of the phrase when playing for the Golden State Warriors.
All of this came up again after Bol died this past weekend, as commentators were looking for ways to eulogize him. Geoff's post was frequently linked to by bloggers (e.g., Kottke, Boing Boing, Deadspin, The Atlantic Wire), and the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg gave the "my bad" story a thorough going-over on D.C. Sports Bog.
Finally, in the echo chamber that is ESPN's "Around the Horn," Bill Plaschke announced (at around 21:50 in the podcast here):
You might not know this. He coined the phrase 'my bad', back in the late 1980's. Language experts have pretty much proven this. When they said 'My fault' he would say 'My bad' because he didn't understand the language.
(h/t Larry Horn on ADS-L)
Well, nothing like that has actually been proven by the "language experts." Though sportswriters first began noting Manute Bol's usage in 1989, "my bad" now has been established back to 1985, with anecdotal evidence going back earlier than that. You can read the whole story in my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus here.
[Update: And now U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback gets in on the action — at 0:55 in the video below.]