‘It sucks’ or ‘that sucks’ is a common phrase in American English slang. What exactly does it mean, and where does it come from?
In short, ‘it sucks’ means that something is bad, unpleasant, or otherwise contemptible.
The word ‘suck’ has a number of different meanings, but in the context of ‘it sucks,’ it usually refers to a person or thing that is unpleasant or bad. For instance, someone might say, “I hate this, ‘it sucks’!” if the tool they just bought broke right away. As another example, someone might try and dissuade you from going to a specific restaurant by saying, “don’t waste your money there, the food is terrible, and ‘it just sucks!’”
However, ‘it sucks’ could potentially have another meaning. The word ‘suck’ can mean:
Vacuums are a classic example of something that ‘sucks,’ using the definition of ‘something that pulls something else in a particular direction with great force.’ If someone says ‘it sucks’ in relation to a vacuum; therefore, they could either be referring to its ability to pull objects toward it with great force or declaring that they are unhappy with the performance of the vacuum.
You might also come across a phrase such as "‘it sucked' the life out of the room." For example, if the owner of a company walked into the meeting room and laid off half of the staff, you might say that “‘it sucked’ the life right out of the room.”
In general, though, you will most often hear ‘it sucks’ as a declaration that something is inadequate or objectionable.
The word ‘suck’ comes from the Old English word sucan which means “to suck,” which itself comes from a Proto-Germanic word sugan. There are a number of similar words in Old Norse, Swedish, Danish, Middle Dutch, German, and Dutch, which might all be from the same Latin source of sugere (“to suck”) and succus (“juice, sap.”)
The origin of the slang definition of the word ‘sucks’ seems to stem back to a euphemism for the act of fellatio. This use of ‘sucks’ dates was first recorded back in the 1920s.
When you say something ‘sucks’ these days, you usually mean that it is contemptible. This use of the word dates back to at least 1971.
At the same time, there is another theory about the origin of ‘it sucks’ or ‘that sucks’ that isn’t about sexual acts at all. According to one source, saying a person ‘sucks’ used to mean that they were naive or easily deceived. This makes a bit of sense in relation to the term ‘sucker,’ which refers to someone that falls for tricks easily.
Even though the origin of the word ‘sucks’ might be obscene, ‘sucks’ isn’t really considered a swear word in American English. That being said, a parent might get upset when their child uses it, as it can be considered rude. On top of that, it is probably not appropriate to use this phrase at the office (unless it’s a very casual culture) or in a formal setting. Similarly, this wouldn’t be the right phrase for a professional email.
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘it sucks’ or ‘that sucks’ many times before, as it's very common in American English. Let’s look at some examples of using this idiom in sentences:
The slang word ‘sucks’ isn’t something you’d want to say in a business meeting or at a formal dinner, but it’s a common part of American English in casual conversations. Though the origin of the phrase is quite vulgar, it isn’t technically a swear word and is something that is quite normal to hear when someone is describing a thing, person or experience they didn’t like.
Learning the meanings of English idioms can be difficult at first, but it’s well worth the effort. After all, the more idioms you know, the more flavor and depth you can incorporate into your vocabulary.
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