etymology, Semantics

The etymology of the word “bad”

Hermaphroditus

I’ve just discovered the etymology for English bad ‘not good’ in Darling Buck 1949, and was going to write a postabout it – but the writers over at Online Etymology Dictionary have read the same chapter as I, and sum it up nicely:

bad (adj.) c.1200, “inferior in quality;” early 13c., “wicked, evil, vicious,” a mystery word with no apparent relatives in other languages.* Possibly from Old English derogatory term bæddel and its dim. bædling “effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast,” probably related to bædan “to defile.” A rare word before 1400, and evil was more common in this sense until c.1700. Meaning “uncomfortable, sorry” is 1839, American English colloquial.

Comparable words in the other Indo-European languages tend to have grown from descriptions of specific qualities, such as “ugly,” “defective,” “weak,” “faithless,” “impudent,” “crooked,” “filthy” (e.g. Gk. kakos, probably from the word for “excrement;” Rus. plochoj, related to O.C.S. plachu “wavering, timid;” Pers. gast, O.Pers. gasta-, related to gand “stench;” Ger. schlecht, originally “level, straight, smooth,” whence “simple, ordinary,” then “bad”). ”

 

When did hermaphrodite become something which such a negative sentiment attached to it in the west? Clearly post-Roman empire, since they have hemaphrodite gods…