I was wondering how this phrase has become so widely used and accepted in common language.
Not only is it said without embarrassment in polite circles it is also used on the airwaves as if it were
As an older person i have always assumed it derived from anti homosexual sentiments and was a manner
of saying something was as bad as someone who sucked a penis. Did i get this all wrong? and if so
why else would sucking be associated with something bad?
Since I can’t really remember a time when, “that sucks,” wasn’t in common use – at least among my general age group – it’s never occurred to me to wonder about the original meaning. My favorite (and often used) variation is, “Sucks to be you!”
Perhaps it has to do with being on the providing end, as opposed to the receiving end, of the service?
The sexual origin is not not the original meaning. An article about it from USA Today contains a quote that is spot-on: “The word sucks was an innocent word that developed a powerful and vulgar sexual connotation related to the taboo subject of fellatio.” A fairly informed conversation about it can be found here. Comments by Ben Zimmer are especially good.
I’ve also posted to our web site a copy of the Ron Butters article from the journal Dictionaries. “We didn’t realize that lite beer was supposed to suck!”: The Putative Vulgarity of “X sucks” in American English. The last page of the PDF is an article “Homophobia Sucks” written by someone under the pseudonym “Blanche Poubelle” in the Boston Guide.
as always, thanks for your insight. Though I must say ‘fellatio’ is hardly an equivalent to the male homosexual behavior.
When i hear fellatio i assume it to be heterosexual and ok. Homosexuals ‘suck’ each other and that has traditionally not been ok at all and in fact quite a disgusting thought to many.
While driving through Keokuck, IA many years ago…mid-80s probably…I saw one of those make-your-own signs (with the letter cards that can be moved around to write any message you want) at a car wash that said “Our vacuums really suck!”
It wasn’t at ground level, you’d have had to have one of those special long poles to change the sign, so I don’t think it was a case of a smart aleck passer-by.
It certainly was attention-getting. I did a double-take to make sure I’d read it correctly.
I remember as a kid hearing someone (another kid) use this word in a derogatory way, but they said “that sucks air” kind of like something that was dying, gasping for air… meaning whatever it was- was really lame. As I got older I understood that there was the sexual connotation but I guess on some level I assumed that maybe that came later. Were we as kids putting another mis-interpretation to the word or was there some type of evolution to the meaning I wonder?
While the USA Today article debunks one sex-origin myth, it perpetuates another: that “jazz” and “rock n’ roll” can be traced to African-American slang terms for sexual intercourse. There are too many voids in the chain of etymology to confirm this. It’s a plausible contention, but it requires a broad leap of faith and a studied disregard for other more innocuous explanations.
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