Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Episode 119: My Bad - A Mea Culpa Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 119: My Bad - A Mea Culpa 

Record Date: August 1, 2021

Air Date: August 4, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Every week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Okay, Dan, what phrase did you research for this week’s episode? 

Dan: Uhhhh…. Not my week…. Nose goes. 

Shauna: Oh, my bad. It’s my week. Mea culpa. 

Have you used or heard someone else use “my bad” or “mea culpa” as a sort of mini apology? 

In this episode, we’ll discuss both phrases, though probably not surprisingly - “mea culpa” has the longer history. 

Meaning provides the following definitions for Mea Culpa: 


my fault! (used as an acknowledgment of one's responsibility).

This is often used when a minor error has been made and might replace the expression, “Sorry!” 

If you’re from the midwest United States, you likely know another way to express this - which is, “Ope!”

The 2nd definition from is 

Noun, plural me·a cul·pas.

an acknowledgment of one's responsibility for a fault or error. 

News outlets will sometimes use this when printing a correction for a previously released publication. There may even be a list of mea culpas included. 

How did we get this phrase? If you guessed Latin, you got it! It was first recorded around 1200. 

The phrase Mea Culpa falls into the category of loanwords, sometimes called borrowing. 

What are loanwords? 

These are words or phrases that have been adopted into the lexicon of one language from a source language with very little or no change to the original. 

In this case, Mea Culpa is a Latin phrase that has been adopted or borrowed by English speakers. 

Other examples of loanwords in the English language include phrases such as: 

Je ne sais quois - This phrase borrowed from French is used to indicate a quality that is very difficult to describe or cannot be put into words.


Deja vus - A feeling or sensation of doing something that you’ve done before. 

Deja vus - A feeling or sensation of doing something that you’ve done before. 

Other loanwords from Latin that you might recognize include:

Alma mater

Carpe diem

Simper fidelis

Alter ego

Habeas corpus 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides a little background on “Mea Culpa” in their “Did you know?” section: 

Did you know?

Mea culpa, which means "through my fault" in Latin, comes from a prayer of confession in the Catholic Church. Said by itself, it's an exclamation of apology or remorse that is used to mean "It was my fault" or "I apologize." Mea culpa is also a noun, however. A newspaper might issue a mea culpa for printing inaccurate information, or a politician might give a speech making mea culpas for past wrongdoings. Mea culpa is one of many English terms that derive from the Latin culpa, meaning "guilt." Some other examples are culpable ("meriting condemnation or blame especially as wrong or harmful") and culprit ("one guilty of a crime or a fault").


The first appearance in print is in the work Vices and Virtues around 1200. It mentions being full of evil thoughts and the speaker asks why he is this way. And ends these thoughts with, “Mea culpa”. 

a1225 (▸c1200) in Vices & Virtues

Swa ic habbe ibien full of euele þohtes. Wa me þas! Mea culpa.

a1425 (▸c1385) Geoffrey Chaucer Troilus & Criseyde

Now, mea culpa, lord! I me repente. 

It is in books through the centuries all the way to today in this intense and more literal sense of contrition, as in the 1920 work, Ulysses by James Joyce, a novel loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey. This book quickly made it to the banned list in the US for some risky language and descriptions.

1958   Times 17 Oct. 17/1

Eisenstein made a public mea culpa at the time in the form of an open letter to the Committee.

For a little background on this, I will share an excerpt from a narrative shared by Oregon State University regarding Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement. Quote: 

Soon after learning that he had won the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry , Pauling made what would be his last visit to Albert Einstein. The great physicist was happy to see Pauling and especially pleased that his younger friend was using the media attention spurred by his Nobel to speak out against the persecution of Oppenheimer. They talked about the new H bombs, about their regrets that the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists had ceased to function, and about their dismay at US defense policies. "I made one great mistake in my life," Einstein told Pauling, "when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made." His only excuse, he said, was his concern that the Germans were doing the same thing. He then repeated a story he had heard, about an incident centuries earlier in which a Swedish leader had told his son, "You would be astonished to know with how little wisdom the world is governed." That, they agreed, was still very much the case.

- End quote

Before we move on to our modern uses, we’d like to take a quick moment to say thank you to our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons. 

Bunny Trails is and will always be free. But we are only able to make this content because of the awesome support of our Patrons like Pat Rowe and Mary Halsig-Lopez. 

Because of Pat, Mary, and many others, you don’t have to pay a dime to enjoy Bunny Trails week after week. But even though Shauna and I volunteer our time, there are still real costs to making this show, including hosting fees, equipment maintenance, domain costs, and more. 

And we turn to you, our listening community, to help cover those costs. To do that, we use Patreon, a service that allows you to support the creators and artists you love. Our patrons get exclusive behind the scenes content, early access to episodes, and access to our videos so you can actually watch along as Shauna and I make the show. 

We want to give a special thanks to Jan for becoming a Patron this week. Jan and I had a chat on Patreon and he seems like a cool dude. 

If you are in a financially stable place, and would like to be like Jan - supporting this educational artform, we encourage you to check out the options. We are bunnytrailspod on Patreon, or find links to everything we do at

Modern Uses

As promised, we are now going to look at My Bad… 

Oxford English Dictionary provides this definition: 

4. colloquial (originally and chiefly U.S.). With possessive: a person's fault; responsibility for a mistake, blunder, etc. Originally and chiefly in my bad (used mainly as an interjection). 

The first official attestation of my bad is found in the May 3, 1981 edition of the Montgomery Advertiser & Alabama Journal. In this section, we see helpful tips on words those youngsters are using.  

Slang Teen Talk... My bad—admission of a mistake, as ‘Sorry, my bad’.

The most popular story for the origin of my bad is related to sports. While this is not actually the first usage, it certainly helped the phrase gain traction and cemented in the lexicon… at least for the time being. The first time this was in print was in 1986 C. Wielgus & A. Wolff’s book Back-in-your-face Guide to Pick-up Basketball . In it, the term was given along with a definition. 

My bad, an expression of contrition uttered after making a bad pass or missing an assignment. 

In the late 1990s, families were still try to learn the language of the youths… in the September 1997 issue of the magazine Parenting , there is a helpful example of how kids might use this phrase. 

Sorry I lost your CD. It's my bad. 

Lani Lynn Vale is a bestselling author of Contemporary and Romantic Suspense. Her book, My Bad was released in 2018

Hoax knows two things very well. One, he's not relationship material. Two, the nurse that treats him for erectile dysfunction is the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, and practically has 'the marrying type' stamped on her forehead.Does that stop him from wanting her? 

The  book MY BAD: 24 Educators Who Messed Up Fessed Up and Grew! By Jon Harper was released in 2019 

MY BAD takes an unflinching look at the harm educators cause themselves—and their students—when they fail to acknowledge their own vulnerability. In startlingly honest and moving vignettes, 24 extraordinary teachers and administrators share how they’ve grown from their biggest regrets and mistakes. Every reader can identify with these stories and feel inspired to lead more authentic lives. We all struggle with insecurity, work-life balance, obliviousness, or self-absorption, but we rarely talk about it. MY BAD names the elephant in the room, which makes the book both therapeutic and deeply satisfying.

The phrase my bad is definitely well-known today and its predecessor and contemporary mea culpa is still widely used. From courtrooms to classrooms, books to podcast titles, the phrase is as prevalent as ever. 

Enigma is a German musical project founded in 1990 by Romanian-German musician and producer Michael Cretu. This is a new-age, worldbeat music project. The song titled Mea Culpa was released in April 1991, so is celebrating its 20th anniversary and there are fans still talking about it on social media. The song features several languages including Greek, Latin, French, and English. This one is a little steamy… 

Kyrie, Kyrie eleison

Christe, Christe eleison

Je ne dors plus

The time has come

Je te désire

The time has come


Je suis à toi

Mea culpa

Lord, Lord have mercy 

Christ, Christ have mercy 

I do not sleep anymore

The time has come

I want you

The time has come

Take me

I'm yours

Mea culpa

On Twitter, a user named Nick shared a moment of honesty saying: 

I have had a general disposition of lacking humility lately. Mea culpa.

We get it Nick. Sometimes humility is hard. 

Also on Twitter, Gustronaut the Cat says, 

Mea culpa. The Gustronomer was merely interested in snacks. Huge melty green eyes. Hungry little cat. #CatsOfTwitter #Caturday 

Wrap up…

I love phrases that stick around for such a long time. Mea culpa has been in use for hundreds of years without much change to the pronunciation or usage. It is fascinating to see a phrase continue to move with society and stay in use for so long.  




That’s about all the time we have for today. We’re happy you joined us. If you have a modern example of the phrase that we should have included, we’d love to hear about it! Reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website - Of course, the best way to engage directly with us is to post it on the Patreon page,!


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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users.

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