I heard this mentioned on the show that has the same name but the Portuguese translation is scary: The Chemistry of Evil .... What the real sense that the writers of the show wanted to go with this "slang"?

breaking Synonyms: breach, cracker, fracture, offscourings, break, rupture, disruption, breakage, burst, fracture, break, breach, breakage, cracking, transgression, trespass, offense, breach, infringement, eruption, rash, outbreak, acne, boil, bankruptcy, smash, ruin

bad Synonyms: poor, mean, perverse, evil, wicked, mean, flagitious, felon, ill, bum, dark, unpleasant, nasty, disagreeable, distasteful, seamy, unfavorable, adverse, contrary, inopportune, unsuitable, untimely, inconvenient, importunate, harmful, detrimental, injurious, prejudicial, deteriorative, bottom, less, inferior, under, inelaborate, severe, harsh, stern, grim, strict, deficient, faulty, wanting, lacking, scanty, sore

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    Time magazine has an entire article about this question: Breaking Bad: What Does That Phrase Actually Mean?
    – apsillers
    Feb 24, 2015 at 14:59
  • 1
    It can mean different things to different people. To me it means a relatively recent (breaking) TV program that is terrible (bad).
    – user6951
    Feb 24, 2015 at 17:07
  • @apsillers - that should be an answer. Feb 24, 2015 at 22:09
  • Marcelo, it's usually best to let an answer stay up for a day or two before accepting it, to invite other answers and commentary. This message explains further. Also, I think the currently accepted answer is wrong! I could be the one who is wrong, but with more than one answer to choose from, you'll get a better understanding of what the phrase means to different people.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Mar 1, 2015 at 7:49
  • rs... I waited for a week for an answer, even would accept @apsillers response as valid, because I found interesting article he passed ... do you really want to wait other answers? Mar 1, 2015 at 8:17

3 Answers 3


You won't find it in a list of synonyms for "break", because lists of synonyms focus on just one sense of a word. The word "break" has many different senses, and "breaking bad" combines several unusual ones at once.

Basically, in the series title, it means "becoming bad": becoming a bad person or engaging in bad or violent behavior. But "break" in this sense has much richer connotations than "become"—which, of course, is why the show's creator chose to call it Breaking Bad and not Becoming Bad. Explaining connotations is hard, but here goes.

As your list of synonyms suggests, the primary sense of "break" is: "to sever into distinct parts by sudden application of force; to part by violence" [OED]. An extended sense is to break through a barrier, especially at the start or the end of a long process. To break ground is to begin digging into the ground, as the first step of constructing a building, or to begin digging in preparation to plant seeds in farmland, or metaphorically to undertake the first step of anything. When a pregnant woman breaks water, this means that the sac that holds the baby and amniotic fluid has burst, signifying that she will soon begin labor. Near a shoreline, a surf is said to break when it nears the shore and topples over.

Those extended senses all suggest some kind of important transition, where something "breaks" in the primary sense. Here are some more, which are closer to "breaking bad". To break free is to cross a barrier or burst through a bond that had previously constrained you; to escape. To break news is to tell someone the news for the first time. When the news itself is breaking, it's happening right now. When a storm breaks, a downpour of rain suddenly begins. The break of day is the moment when the Sun first appears above the horizon. To break even is to have your gains and your losses come out equal ("even"). If you are playing billiards, and the ball breaks left, that means it turns to the left instead of going straight.

Now are you starting to see how "break" stretches from its primary meaning toward something like "become"? The senses along the way are not completely forgotten; they're still suggested or evoked. This Time magazine article quotes Vince Gilligan, the lead writer of Breaking Bad, defining it as a Southern U.S. expression meaning "raising hell". But as the article notes, Gilligan's definition doesn't do justice to the full meaning of the term, which is probably impossible to define precisely. In the first episode, Jesse uses the phrase to refer to Walt's inexplicable change from a straitlaced, middle-aged high-school teacher into a budding criminal. That's the theme of the entire series, of course.

The OED offers this as definition 39c:

To happen, occur. slang (orig. U.S.)

and includes these illustrations:

"Things are breaking right for me."

"Everything'll break good."

So, breaking bad suggests something of the change of course of "breaking left" in pool, something of the transition into chaos of a "breaking" surf, and something of the end result as in "breaking even".

I can see why a translator would choose not to translate it, favoring instead a completely different title. What makes the title so expressive in English—the simultaneous resonance of many senses of break—makes it impossible to translate directly to another language.


The term "breaking bad" in current culture relates to a television show titled "breaking bad". In the show a mild mannered chemistry teacher become a drug dealing person to be feared.

The term can be broken down in various ways..

  • He is was good and has become bad so he has become broken.
  • Sometimes the word "bad" in English means "a lot". "He wants it bad" means his desire for something is large. "Breaking bad" in this context would mean he is breaking a lot.
  • A third way to take the term would be to describe breaking as changing velocity quickly; or changing direction quickly. In this context breaking would be changing direction to bad quickly. In the case of the main character of the TV show he was nice and meek, then evil almost over night.

To summarize....
When one breaks bad they switch from a nice person to a person who is "bad"


Breaking bad means raising hell.

I am not sure if you need raising hell defined. But thefreedictionary gives several defintions.

This all we need to say. Well, not quite.

Yes, that Time magazine article lists all sorts of connotations for the term. But I would trust that the show's creator, head writer and executive producer is more of an authority on the term's meaning than the writer of that article.

If the show's creator, head writer and executive producer says breaking bad means raising hell, it is time to to stop over-thinking the issue and accept what he says. How many times do we get a firm word on what an expression means from the person who uses that expression? Many times we have to guess.

But we do not have to guess this time.

In addition, sometimes a phrase means one simple thing (raising hell) and does not have to carry every single possible connotation of the phrase. It is less likely to carry every possible connotation of breaking and/or of bad as individual words. Thus to ferret out every possible connotation or use of what breaking can mean is misguided.

EDIT: Of course there is the possibility that as the show progressed the meaning of the term as used by the show's writers might have widened to take on other connotations.

  • And what does "raising hell" mean? And since when does a brief definition-by-synonym convey the meaning of a term? And why does one of the characters in the show itself use it differently, when describing what is happening to the main character? Native speakers are not always right, not even about their own language. And consider this. -1
    – Ben Kovitz
    Mar 1, 2015 at 21:14

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