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On the term ‘to suck’

One of my minor pet peeves is the verb ‘suck’ used to express disparagement (as in ‘Windows really sucks, doesn’t it?’). You see, I have an annoying tendancy to think about the literal meanings of words and phrases, and about their histories. And the phrase ‘that sucks’ is shortened from ‘that sucks cock.’ The original notion, of course, is that gay men (and perhaps straight women) perform fellatio, and being a gay man (or maybe a cock-sucking woman) is ostensibly an awful, degrading thing.

But you see, sucking is not actually a bad thing. I like sucking. It’s nice. It gives pleasure and makes people happy, and makes me proud of my ability to spread joy. And I like being sucked; it feels good and it makes me feel closer to the person sucking me. And sucking doesn’t get you pregnant, and while I strongly recommend condoms for sucking (avoid the kind lubricated with Nonoxynol-9 for this purpose; it tastes awful), other things being equal it’s significantly safer than intercourse. Sucking is a good thing.

So really, ‘you suck’ ought to be a term of approval! Think about it:

Doesn’t that make more sense, when you think about it?

I have to admit, I have a hard time coming up with plausible alternatives to ‘that sucks’. ‘That bites’ isn’t bad, and is probably my favourite, but even it has its problems: I have a number of friends[1] who are quite fond of biting and being bitten. ‘That bites nonconsensually’ has just the right connotation, but is too long to be practical. ‘That rots’ is confusing, as it sounds too similar to ‘that rocks’, which means something quite different. ‘That votes Republican’ has a certain ring to it, though.

Now language is not logical, and words and phrases adopt new meanings, and there’s not a lot any one person can do about it. I know that when most people say something sucks they are not expressing hatred of gay men, or even dislike of fellatio. In fact, I’m sure that all my friends who use the term would agree that homophobia really sucks. But still, it bothers me a bit to hear the word used that way, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Or maybe that’s just the Nonoxynol-9.

[1] ‘I have this friend, you see...’
Jay Sekora <js@aq.org>
last modified 2004.04.06