The correct amount of bad

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The last two panels of today's Dumbing of Age:

Walky has a good point about "too bad". But the last panel is also a good example of emphatic even — see

"What does 'even' even mean?", 2/8/2011
"Can they even prove that?", 5/24/2011
"Even again", 10/21/2011
"Annals of even", 10/4/2013

The whole strip:


  1. Neal Goldfarb said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 7:04 am

    And then there’s “It’s been October-surprised”.

  2. Peter Erwin said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 7:09 am

    The Bad Machinery webcomic introduced the idea of the "bad spectrum" (which would at least allow you to measure the amount of bad, though you'd still have to define the limit beyond the bad was too much) in this strip:

    and then in the comment offered this suggestion:

    I'm afraid that I don't have a diagram of the "bad spectrum" to hand. That's the sort of thing a more popular comic, like XKCD, might do. I leave you to do the heavy lifting yourselves. Just spitballing, I think at one end of the "bad spectrum" (say, 0.1 BADS PER MILLION) would be "raising a mug of coffee with the coaster still attached, then it drops off and makes you jump, but not enough that you spill the coffee". 1 million BADS PER MILLION = "unusual cosmic activity causes the Earth's oceans to boil off".

  3. Norman Smith said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 9:44 am

    I had a colleague who would ask, "How are you?" in greeting. If I said, "Not bad", and asked him how we was, he would reply, "Just bad enough!"

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 2:47 pm

    The first two panes go straight over my head. I think one has to have been brought up on cartoons such as these in order to have a vestige of a chance of understanding them …

  5. Viseguy said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 7:54 pm

    I agree with Philip Taylor. (Next thing, it'll be warm enough to swim at Coney Island in January. Oh, wait….) Anyway…. isn't too a documented intensifier? At least with bad and good (and synonyms therefor). If not, that would be too bad.

  6. David Morris said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 8:16 pm

    If I ever had the correct amount of bad, I would immediately want less.

  7. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 11:10 pm

    Philip Taylor: I don't understand those panels either, but I think my problem is with cultural references (is Doctor Who involved?) and deliberate weirdness, especially for Walky.

    Viseguy: Yes, too is a documented intensifier. The OED says:

    2c. Expressing, sorrowfully or indignantly, regret or disapproval: to a lamentable, reprehensible, painful, or intolerable extent; regrettably, painfully, esp. as too true. just too bad: see BAD adj., n.2, and adv. Phrases 4. Cf. 5c.

    c1275 (▸?a1200) Laȝamon Brut (Calig.) (1963) l. 2627 To late heom þuste are heo þer comen.
    1297 R. Gloucester's Chron. (Rolls) 4618 Ac to prout he was & to fals, þat ssende þis lond alas.

    And s.v. "bad"

    too bad: extremely unfortunate or regrettable. Frequently in just too bad. Also as int. Cf. TOO adv. 2c.

    a. Used sympathetically or neutrally.

    1575 G. Gascoigne Noble Arte Venerie xxxv. 91 The place appoynted thus, it neyther shall be clad, With Arras nor with Tapystry, such paltrie were too bad.
    ?1593 H. Chettle Kind-harts Dreame sig. D2 Either witles, which is too bad, or wilfull, which is worse.

    (The first citation for the unsympathetic sense is from Dashiell Hammett in 1929.)

  8. David Marjanović said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 2:33 pm

    The first two panes go straight over my head. I think one has to have been brought up on cartoons such as these in order to have a vestige of a chance of understanding them …

    Lucy was indeed wearing a Dr Who shirt last time, and Walky is making fun both of that and of something he said in a strip that was published years ago. And that would take too long to explain. :-)

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 10:23 am

    Thanks, David Marjanović.

  10. DWalker07 said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 1:38 pm

    @David Morris:

    "If I ever had the correct amount of bad, I would immediately want less."

    That's very "meta". Obviously, there IS no correct amount of bad, because the correct amount is more than we want, which means…. You made my head explode.

  11. stephen said,

    January 18, 2019 @ 9:24 pm

    "Too bad" is the amount of bad worth mentioning.
    I didn't have cereal one morning because I ran out of milk. That's not too bad, you don't care, I ate something else instead, so what? It wasn't worth mentioning…except as an example of something which isn't "too bad."
    I hope that helps.

  12. Trogluddite said,

    January 20, 2019 @ 10:57 am

    I wonder then; how does the intensifier "too" function with one of the other OED glosses for "bad"…
    8: [North American, informal] Good; excellent.

    I recall that usage having some currency in the UK during my youth, which I found most perplexing. It seems plausible that users of this slang might have used "too bad" to indicate unimaginably good fortune, but I have never been very "street-wise", so cannot confirm this.

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