Grammar Chaos: Clearing the Name—Bad Rap vs. Bad Rep

Posted on Oct 31, 2018

Having a bad rap is potentially life-ruining. It doesn’t matter whether you actually did something or not to earn that negative image: it’s not easy to do anything when you’ve got a red flag that implies “Hey, this one’s sort of dodgy, and they might make a mess of things.” In the same way, it can be embarrassing to misuse the phrase bad rap (watch out for the grammar police!). It can tarnish your reputation—more so if you’re a writer. So let’s clear things up before that happens.

bad rap vs. bad rep

Understandably, bad rap is sometimes confused with bad rep because they sound so alike and have nearly the same meaning. To be perfectly clear, one of them is a valid phrase while the other is a mistake people kept repeating until it began to sound like the real thing.

The original phrase refers to the negative reputation a person has. It can be due to the person being falsely accused of something, or just having a quality or tendency that people might find inconvenient. From this definition, one might think bad rep is the correct phrase since it’s a shortened version of bad reputation, but no—it’s actually bad rap. Rap here is used in relation to its definition in “rap sheet,” which refers to a criminal record. Therefore, one would have a bad reputation due to their record of perceived misdeeds and/or unruly behavior.

Bad rep, on the other hand, is just a misspelling of bad rap that is likely based on its phonological similarity and direct link to the word reputation. The only time bad rep is applicable is if it’s referring colloquially to reputation—an outdated abbreviation from the late 18th century. That definition is already covered by bad rap, so save yourself the hassle: just leave bad rep out of the equation.

Let’s get comfortable with bad rap. Here are a few examples to help with that:

  1. Delilah never recovered from the bad rap she got from the time she was falsely accused of murdering her ex-husband, Samson Cleverdale.

  2. Joe got a bad rap at the finance department for repeatedly misplacing the receipts of his purchases during business trips.

  3. Malia took her case to court, but she received a bad rap instead of justice when the quorum believed the defendant’s trumped-up charges against her.

  4. As expected, Cav earned a bad rap for repeatedly going back on his word.

If you’ve noticed, bad rap is often used as the object of verbs that pertain to acquisition, such as get, earn, receive, and the like. Keep this in mind when using this phrase in a sentence too. Lastly, we offer a friendly warning: you might get a bad rap if you keep using bad rep. Remember this, and you’ll easily know which one to say.

We hope we’ve helped clear up this criminal grammar confusion. If you’ve got other questions on grammar and writing, just send us a message, and we’ll respond as soon as we can. See you again!


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