Thursday, August 16, 2012

This.... sucks!

I admit it, I’ve been called a “nerd”.  I’ve taken it as a serious compliment, attaching to it its more contemporary meaning: “an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit: a computer nerd”, and not its original meaning “a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person”.  (I know what you’re thinking: I’m attaching the wrong meaning, but let’s just leave it there, shall we?)  I’ve also been called a “geek”, and once again, am flattered because I take it to mean: “a computer expert or enthusiast”, and not: “a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, [such] as biting off the head of a live chicken”, the word’s original meaning.  What were insults just a few years ago are now compliments.  Words evolve.

As Seth Stevenson puts forth in this great article on, (incorporating the references above), it’s time to divorce the wonderfully succinct descriptor “sucks” from its alleged vulgar roots.  I say alleged because, as Stevenson indicates, it is entirely possible that the word’s contemporary connotation did not even originate from fellatio:'s not even clear that sucks has naughty origins. We might trace its roots to the phrase sucks hind teat, meaning inferior. Or there's sucks to you, a nonsexual taunt apparently favored by British schoolchildren of yore.

Or, from an anonymous contributor to who apparently was there at the exact place and time the phrase came to be used as we know it today, we have this:

only [sic] one meaning fits the time that the phrase became a popular expression, not old England or [sic] something in the backseat [sic] of a ‘55 Chevy.  as [sic] a Vietnam vet i [sic] was there when and where it started.  we [sic] all used the expression “it sucks” to describe something really bad as in a ‘sucking wound’ is [sic] a open [sic] chest injury where the lung was exposed to air and sucking noise was what you might hear just before someone dies.  thus [sic] a sucking sound is a number 10 as in a bad, bad thing.

But regardless of whether the origin of “sucks” was vulgar, its usage today, as Stevenson so effectively argues, is simple, concise and emphatic.  And it joins “nerd” and “geek” as expressions that have taken on new meanings to such an extent that most people using them are unaware of their original meanings.  I cannot agree more with Stevenson when he concludes:

Personally, I wish sucks could escape from its slangy ghetto. It's a terrifically punchy little syllable, with that "k" lending it the proven Starbucks/Nike/Kinko's power of the "sticky consonant." And take heart, sucks-haters. Soon enough, another bit of slang will come along and gain entrance into our common language, and it will be vastly more offensive than sucks ever was.