Breaking Bad Words: Thieves, Drugs, and Special Sauce

Just what does it mean to break bad? We discussed it in an earlier post: breaking bad is American Southern colloquialism for “turn[ing] toward a life of crime or immoral activity,” as well as, according to Partridge, “act[ing] in a threatening, menacing manner” – two counts, among many others, that Walter White and his band of not-so-merry thieves and drug dealers are guilty of.

We’re guilty of being addicted to this show, and in anticipation of this Sunday’s mid-season finale, have cooked up a glossary of words that break bad. Spoilers follow.

UPDATE: A term from the mid-season finale is now included (see queen for a day).

banjo eyes

Hank: “What about that Lydia what’s-her-name? You know, Lady Banjo Eyes at the warehouse?”

“Fifty-One,” August 5, 2012

Banjo eyes are “wide-open eyes, as from being surprised or startled,” similar in appearance to the round and white banjo body. The term seems to have originated in the early 1900s.

dark territory

Lydia: “If a freight train is stopped in transit anywhere other than the usual yards or depots, absolutely, a signal will automatically alarm the FRA and the TSA surface division of the department of Homeland Security. But what you don’t know and I do because my job requires me to keep track of buyers’ shipments – this is dark territory.”
Jesse: “What’s that?”
Lydia: “Transpeak for an area of no contact. It’s a dead zone. No automated supervision system, no alarms, no contact with control. No cellular either. I’m telling you, it’s the perfect place.”

“Dead Freight,” August 12, 2012

Dark territory refers to “a section of [railroad] track not controlled by signals,” in which “train movements in dark territory are controlled by track warrants or train order operation, with train dispatchers issuing orders by radio communication with train engineers.”

dead drop

Steven [watching Mike]: “It’s a dead drop. He just stashed something underneath that trash can.”

“Buyout,” August 19, 2012

A dead drop is “a location used to secretly pass items between two people, without requiring them to meet.”

ex parte

Saul:  “I have filed for a temporary restraining order against the DEA on behalf of Mr. Ehrmantraut. . . .Expect a visit from the sheriff, agents. You should have your ex parte within the hour.”

“Buyout,” August 19, 2012

A temporary restraining order that is filed ex parte is filed “without informing in advance the party to whom the TRO is directed,” and is usually done so “to prevent an adversary from having notice of one’s intentions.”

The definition of ex parte in law is “proceeding from or concerned with only one part or side of a matter in question: with reference to any step taken by or on behalf of one of the parties to a suit or in any judicial proceeding without notice to the other.”


Saul: “If the DEA catches him and he flips, it’s good night, John Boy.”
Jesse: “Mike won’t flip.”

“Say My Name,” August 26, 2012

To flip in this context means “to cause (a person) to turn against former colleagues, such as to become a witness for the state, in a criminal prosecution in which the person is a defendant.”


Food scientist: “This one is a new concept, and it intrigues us, half-French dressing, half-ranch. We refer to it simply as ‘Franch.’”

“Madrigal,” July 22, 2012

Franch is a type of salad dressing or sauce that’s a blend, literally and linguistically, of French and ranch dressing.


Saul: “Do I complain? No, beg, borrow, or steal, I’m your huckleberry. I go the extra mile.”

“Live Free or Die,” July 15, 2012

The phrase I’m your huckleberry means “to be just the right person for a given job, or a willing executor of some commission,” says World Wide Words. The phrase comes from the idea of huckleberries being “small, dark and rather insignificant,” and the sense that “the man for the job isn’t obvious.” It doesn’t seem to derive directly from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

in Dutch

Saul: “She’s been cooking Beneke’s books. He’s in Dutch with the IRS, and once they audit, it’s Rio de Caca for the both of them, to which I say, ‘Hey, let’s involve Walt in this discussion,’ to which she says, ‘No.’”

“Live Free or Die,” July 15, 2012

To be in Dutch means to be “in trouble or disfavor” with, and perhaps comes from the old stereotype, says World Wide Words, of the Dutch being “stolid, miserly, and bad-tempered.” Other Dutch phrases include go Dutch, Dutch treat, Dutch courage, and Dutch uncle.


Mike: “You’re forgetting about the mules. They get a flat 20%”
Walt: “The what?”
Jesse: “The drivers that are the ones that take the product from us to the dealers.”

“Hazard Pay,” July 29, 2012

A mule is slang for “a person who serves as a courier of illegal drugs.” It comes from the idea of the mule as a pack animal, “used to carry loads,” and is first attested to 1935.

queen for a day

Lawyer: “The best I’d be willing to do is queen for a day and reduced charges.”
Hank: “He could be a fairy princess for all I care.”

“Gliding Over All,” September 2, 2012

Queen for a day agreements, according to the New York Criminal Bar Association, are also known as proffer agreements. They “govern the conditions under which prospective criminal defendants and the government agree to conduct an interview,” and

generally require criminal defendants, who hope to gain leniency through a reduced sentence or immunity grant, to waive their plea-statement rights, and they permit, in certain circumstances, the prosecution to introduce previously inadmissible proffer statements at trial.

The term comes from the television show of the same name.

second-story man

Saul: “Pest control operation’s legit. They’re licensed, they’re bonded, they do as good a job as anyone in town. But they’re also top-drawer second-story men.
Walt: “Second story?”
Saul: “B&E artists. They’re burglars.”

“Hazard Pay,” July 29, 2012

A second-story man is slang for “a burglar adept at entering through upstairs windows.” A B&E artist is adept at breaking and entering, which is “the gaining of unauthorized, illegal access to another’s premises, as by forcing a lock.”

special sauce

Hank [to Mike]: “Corporate security. What’s that, like guarding the special sauce?”

“Madrigal,” July 22, 2012

Special sauce originally referred to McDonald’s “basic ingredient in [their] Big Mac hamburgers, a sort of Thousand Island dressing (now called Big Mac sauce by the company),” but now perhaps refers to any unidentifiable fast food sauce. For more on special sauces, checkout Erin McKean’s article on saucy affixes.

[Photo: Coke & Popcorn]

2 thoughts on “Breaking Bad Words: Thieves, Drugs, and Special Sauce

  1. You didn’t really cover the meaning of “special sauce” fully.

    During the heyday of the “special sauce” ad campaign, McDonald’s made a big deal of how its “special sauce” (whose recipe was secret) was the magic ingredient that made their cheap sandwich wonderful. So Hank is referring to something both mysterious and held out as being invaluable, but actually trivial.

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