Have an A1 day!: Our Favorite Words from Breaking Bad

We’re just days away from the series finale of the brilliant Breaking Bad. While we’ve been on the edges of our seats all season, we’ve also been listening for interesting terms. We’ve collected them right here, from euphemisms to legal terms to the changing meaning of a devil of a word.

Also be sure to check out our roundup of words that broke bad in the first half of the season.


Walt [to Lydia]: “Give this to your car wash professional and have an A1 day.”

“Blood Money,” August 11, 2013

A1 is slang for first-class or outstanding. It originally referred to a wooden ship, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), “in respect of both hull and fittings.” Charles Dickens was one of the first to use A1 to mean anything excellent. From The Pickwick Papers: “‘He must be a first-rater,’ said Sam. ‘A1,’ replied Mr. Roker.”

In order to appear first in the phone book, a company may place multiple As and 1s before its name. But whether or not this actually improves business is questionable. A1 is also the brand name of a steak sauce.

change in management

Todd [to Walt]: “Me and Declan had some differences of opinion, and it got a little messy. It’s all straightened out now, but just a heads up that there’s been a kind of change in management.”

“Confessions,” August 25, 2013

Change in management is a euphemism for “a bunch of people quit or got fired and now there are new people in charge.” In this case, the former management was killed.

Todd’s dialogue is filled with euphemisms and biz speak, which are often one in the same: he and Declan had some “differences of opinion” rather than a murderous rivalry; the deadly shootout “got a little messy”; and Todd wants to make give Walt a “heads up” about the murder of Declan and his men.

dead to rights

Marie: “I got a call from Hank. He arrested Walt three hours ago. Dead to rights, I believe is the expression.”

“Ozymandias,” September 15, 2013

Dead to rights means “with sufficient evidence to establish responsibility definitively,” or as the OED puts it, caught “red-handed, in the act.” The phrase is also known as bang to rights. Dead to rights and bang to rights may come from the phrase deadbang meaning “open-and-shut; irrefutable.”

The phrase caught red-handed comes from the idea of a murderer being caught with blood on his hands.

Devil, the

Jesse [to Hank and Gomez]: “You two guys are just guys. Mr. White, he’s the Devil. He is smarter than you, he’s luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen, the exact reverse opposite of that is going to happen.”

“Rabid Dog,” September 1, 2013

The word devil comes from the Greek diabolos by way of Middle English, Old English, and Latin. In general use, diabolos means “accuser, slanderer,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

The Devil was first known as “the proper appellation of the supreme spirit of evil” in Jewish and Christian theology, says the OED, and later was a “wicked or malevolent person.” The word gained the playful meaning of a “clever rogue” around 1600.

In “Blood Money,” the first episode of this last half of the season, Marie says jokingly to Walt, “You are the Devil!” A few episodes later Jesse refers to him as the Devil incarnate.

hat trick

Saul [to Jesse]: “The Feds have already taken Kaylee’s money twice. You’re going for a hat trick?”

“Blood Money,” August 11, 2013

A hat trick is three consecutive wins. The phrase comes from the game of cricket where it means “three wickets taken in cricket by a bowler in three consecutive balls.” It originated with the idea that such a bowler would be rewarded with a new hat.

rat patrol

Jack: “What are we talking? Rat patrol?”
Walt: “No, no. [Jesse’s] not a rat. He’s just angry.”

“To’hajiilee,” September 8, 2013

The rat in this case is “a despicable person, especially one who betrays or informs upon associates.” A rat patrol would exterminate such individuals.

The Rat Patrol was also an American TV show from the mid-1960s about four Allied soldiers “who are part of a long-range desert patrol group in the North African campaign during World War II.” Rat is the disparaging nickname given to “some of the British Commonwealth forces in the North African campaign.” Also called Desert Rats.

send someone on a trip to Belize

Walt: “Hank knows. That’s not nothing.”
Saul: “Yeah, I can’t exactly see him turning the other cheek. . . .Have you given any thought to sending him on a trip to Belize?”

“Buried,” August 18, 2013

To send someone on a trip to Belize is a euphemism for having someone killed. To sleep with the fishes, which comes from The Godfather, is another euphemism that means the individual is dead, most likely murdered and the corpse deposited in a body of water.

For more ways to say dead without saying dead, check out this list.

term of art

Saul: “It’s an actual store. I guess I figured ‘vacuum cleaner repair’ was a term of art.”

“Granite State,” September 22, 2013

A term of art is “a term whose use or meaning is specific to a particular field of endeavor.” These terms “have one or more specific meanings that are not necessarily the same as those in common use.”

“Vacuum cleaner repair” is the guise used by a man whose expertise lies in erasing people’s identities. Saul is surprised when the man appears to own an actual shop full of vacuums.


Declan: “Heisenberg’s standards don’t matter anymore.”
Lydia: “To whom? A bunch of scabby Arizona tweakers?

“Buried,” August 18, 2013

A tweaker is someone addicted to methamphetamines, otherwise known as crystal meth. This meaning of tweaker has been around since the 1980s, says the OED, and comes from tweak meaning “to become agitated or excited” or “twitchy,” especially from drug use. Tweak could be a blend of freak out and twitch.

[Photo: via Celebuzz]

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]