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What Does "Bad Blood" Mean?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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"Bad blood" is an idiom that is common among English speakers. Typically, the term is used to refer to any situation in which relationships between two or more parties have deteriorated to the point that positive interaction is difficult, if not impossible. This type of expression may be related to difficulties that exist between family members, friends, and even between business competitors. The basis for the bad blood normally has to do with real or perceived actions that caused some type of hurt to the other party, resulting in a breakdown of the ability to communicate and interact in a cordial manner.

With its origins in the early 19th century, the idea of bad blood is often associated with a breakdown in communication between members of a family unit. For example, the surviving children of a deceased parent may be unhappy with some of the terms found in parent's will, and project that displeasure onto siblings they perceive as having manipulated the parent in some manner. At other times, the bad blood may be due to specific actions taken by one family member that anger or upset other family members, such as entering into a marriage or relationship that the others do not consider appropriate.

The incidence of bad blood in the business world is also apparent. Companies may develop bad blood between them owing to opinions on the business practices employed by the other. In some cases, a hostile takeover attempt will spawn negative feelings, even if the effort is ultimately not successful. Luring away valued employees is another a reason for poor relations to exist between businesses, as well as capturing a significant number of customers or otherwise undermining the position of a company within the marketplace.

While the presence of bad blood is often associated with an eventual cycle of violence, it is possible to carry grudges for a number of years without attempting any type of retaliation against the other party involved. For example, divorced couples may carry a great deal of animosity toward one another, but choose to not act on those negative feelings out of concern for an children they may share. In like manner, a sibling may carry a great deal of ill feeling toward a brother or sister but choose to seek counseling to learn how to deal with that animosity rather than use it to create difficulties for that relative.

Bad blood among relatives, friends, and even businesses can occur for any number of reasons. Factors such as money, other relationships, business practices or religious or philosophical beliefs may lead to a rift between people that seems impossible to repair. Until strategies are developed to reopen the lines of communication and come to some sort of terms of reconciliation, the ill feeling has the potential to poison other relationships, leaving everyone adversely affected.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Language & Humanities, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Dec 06, 2014

Isn't it better for people to hold grudges than retaliate or harm others though? Ideally, we should be able to forgive and forget. But sometimes it's very difficult. My brother's fiance was lured away by his best friend. We can't ever expect my brother to forgive them. There is bound to be bad blood in that sense. But he has never tried to hurt them or target them. He says that they're not worth it and has moved on with his life. I think that this is the best stance to take when people wrong us. My brother is religious and he knows that we all have to answer to God for what we do. So it's better to leave people alone even though we may continue to be upset with them.

By burcinc — On Dec 05, 2014

@ysmina-- Yea, I agree with you. I think it's best to move on instead of maintaining bad blood. Especially if there are children, people have to learn to respect one another and be cordial for their children. Parents do have to come together from time to time for kids and hostility has a very negative effect on children. I think it also helps so see our own mistakes as it's usually both sides who are at fault, not just one.

By ysmina — On Dec 05, 2014

I think that bad blood after romantic break-ups tend to be the worst. People are so vulnerable in romantic relationships and if things go bad, it does turn into hostility very quickly. Other times, like the article said, people try to move on but may hold on to grudges for a long time to come.

My sister just got out of a terrible marriage and the divorce was equally ugly. She has a lot of hatred for her ex right now. I'm not sure how she got to this stage because normally she's a calm and kind person. Bad relationships really bring out the worst in people. I don't know why couples let it get to that stage.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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