A defense of the word sucks.

Language and how we use it.
Aug. 2 2006 6:44 AM

Suck It Up

A defense of the much-maligned word.

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English speakers have traditionally turned to our tongue's Germanic side when we seek to be direct. (Some Germanic words: run, eat, beat, and yes, suck.) But we turn to our French romance roots when we're looking for a little more formality. (Romance words: saunter, devour, chastise.) It's not precisely the same thing, but a similar duality has come to affect our sentence constructions. We get short and direct when we're being casual, but we tend to add layers and buffers when we're reaching for a formal air. Perhaps the X sucks/stinks/rocks/rules formulation is just so blunt it strikes us as unseemly.

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.

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For proof that this escalating battle of raunch has been going on for years, I present a fantastic exchange (click here to listen to part of it) from the 1940 film classic The Philadelphia Story. Witness a mother and daughter debating the relative merits of vulgar intransitive verbs:

Dinah Lord: "This stinks."

Margaret Lord: "Don't say stinks, darling. If absolutely necessary, smells. But only if absolutely necessary."

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