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Is “Sucks” A Bad Word?

May 16, 2016
It depends on what is doing the sucking and what is getting sucked. (image via wikimedia)

It depends on what is doing the sucking and what is getting sucked. (image via wikimedia)

“This sucks!” my youngest daughter muttered as she was washing the dishes.

I didn’t blame her.  The dishes had piled up over the course of the day, and nobody had done them, and my daughter had smarted off to my wife at the wrong time, so now she was stuck with a sinkful of crusty dishes.  Yes, we have a dishwasher, but my wife insists on all the dried remnants getting scraped before the dishes are placed into the washer.  It’s probably more time consuming than it needs to be, but our dishes never need a rewash.

“Don’t say ‘sucks,’” my wife said.  “It’s rude.  And it’s vulgar.”

“It is?” my daughter asked.

“It is?” I asked.

I had never thought about it before, and I think about vulgar expressions all the time.  I’ve been saying variations of “This sucks” for as long as I remember.  I wanted to defend my daughter saying “This sucks,” but there were a lot of chores to do around the house, and all of them sucked, so it wasn’t the best time to get into a linguistics argument with my wife.

Hearing my wife complain about the word sucks brought back bad memories.  When I was a kid, I got punished for saying “bad” words like sucks and crap.  It ticked me off so much that I even wrote this book Crap Is NOT a Bad Word!: and Other Topics Polite People Don’t Discuss .

A part of me understands my wife’s concerns.  Suck/sucks fits the construct of a bad word.  Most bad words have four-letter root words.  Suck is four letters.  But not every four-letter word is a bad word.  Suck rhymes with f*ck, and f*ck is a bad word, but not every word that rhymes with f*ck is bad.  Muck is okay.  Luck and duck are okay too.  Therefore, suck might be okay.  Like most things, it depends on the context.

One problem with sucks is that sucks is a transitive verb, meaning that there has to be a direct object after it.  You don’t just suck.  You have to suck something.  Without that something (which is the direct object), the sentence is incomplete.  For example, a vacuum cleaner doesn’t just suck; a vacuum cleaner sucks dirt/dust/hair/etc…

Just so you know, I don’t really know anything about transitive/intransitive verbs and direct objects.  I had to look them up.

Anyway, when you insult somebody by saying “You suck,” the sentence should be “You suck ________.”  Whether or not suck is a bad word or not depends on what the direct object is.  It depends on what is being sucked.

If the sentence is, “You suck lollipops,” then sucks wouldn’t be bad because it’s okay to suck lollipops and there’s nothing insulting about it.  To most people, sucking lollipops is perfectly fine.  Saying “This sucks lollipops!” would be a compliment.  But that’s never what people mean when they say “This sucks!”

“You suck exhaust fumes” is more problematic because sucking exhaust fumes leads to death and that would be very bad.  In most cases, saying “You suck exhaust fumes” could be taken as an insult, but it’s not socially forbidden to talk about exhaust fumes, so it wouldn’t be considered bad or vulgar.

The socially forbidden direct object for “You suck _______!” would be the word d*ck.  “You suck d*ck” is probably the worst of the interpretations of “You suck ______” because it is socially forbidden to talk about sucking d*ck.  I personally am not judging the physical act of sucking d*ck, but it is considered vulgar to discuss, and I’m a polite person, so I usually don’t talk about sucking d*ck on my blog.

Most people would not blurt out “This sucks d*cks!”  But saying “This sucks!” without the word d*ck is almost socially acceptable.  People have forgotten what the direct object is.  So if you believe that the direct object matters, then you might believe saying “You suck” is a vulgar expression.

Saying “This stinks” is safer because everybody knows what stinks.  There is no implied direct object, so nobody can see stinks as a bad word or “This stinks” as a vulgar expression.  Saying stinks is safer, but it isn’t as much fun.  The sound –inks is nowhere as much fun to say as the sound –uck or –ucks.   If I could get away with it, all I’d say are words that end with –uck.

If saying variations of “This sucks” is vulgar, I need an alternative for my daughters so that they don’t get in trouble.  “This stinks!” is okay, but it doesn’t have enough emotional impact.  Adding a family-friendly direct object to “This sucks!” might make the meaning less ambiguous, and therefore, less vulgar.

Some possibilities include:

“This sucks… the joy out of my life.”

“This sucks… away the free time I had.”

If you would rather not to use the word sucks at all, I prefer the phrase: “This is not an ideal situation.”

“This is not an ideal situation,” is more sophisticated than “This sucks” or “This stinks.”  Plus, it has a bit of understatement.  There isn’t enough understatement in this world.  Some people don’t care for understatement, but I’ve never heard anybody say “Understatement sucks!”

FINAL VERDICT- Sucks is NOT a bad word, but if you run across anybody who disagrees, be prepared to add a family-friendly direct object.


What do you think?  Should suck/sucks be a bad word?  What better alternatives are there for the word suck?


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  1. I do not think that “sucks” is a controversial or rude word. I do think it is a very dated word, very 1990s.

    –Morgan Howland
    the Pop Song History Blog

  2. I do enjoy the way you have talked about this. Very interesting.
    I would not say it is a rude word. I have known a lot of parents to ask their kids not to say it because it is not overly nice, but not rude.
    Perhaps it is a gateway word to foul language?

  3. Hehehe! This was a great read. I use that term often!

  4. happyfreeconfusedlonelyatthesametime permalink

    Lol since her smart mouth made her end up doing the dishes, maybe she should watch what she’s saying or she’d end up with more chores 😀

  5. I’ve been on the fence about this one myself. On the one hand, the phrase definitely has obscene origins. On the other, it’s so commonplace now that it may be disconnected from the original imagery.

    Maybe saying something “bites” is safer. 🙂

  6. heideekae permalink

    Reblogged this on Write, Miss Monster and commented:
    I swear like a sailor already, God help me if there are even more naughty words I’ve been using. Whoops.

  7. Dina permalink

    I don’t think sucks is a bad work. But does that really matter in your home? Have you shown your wife this post, because I would be very interested to see what she makes of it.
    great post 🙂

  8. Mindful King permalink

    When I was 10 I was talking about “sucking” (not d*ck) and my mom told me it’s not a bad word but rather a “derogatory” word.

  9. Mindful King permalink

    I also think suck can actually be a bad word ‘depending on the context.’ The FCC actually has that word in the profanity list. To some families it is equally as bad as the word crap. To others, a little worse. But it’s nowhere as bad as d*ck, sh*t, or f*ck.

  10. Mindful King permalink

    Now I know why suck actually IS a bad word. It is a combination of shit and fuck 😉

  11. You can suck blood.So it depend of the intention of the person to me.

  12. Understatement sucks!
    😂😁 Just kidding
    No seriously though, I use “This sucks” all the time. I didn’t know there was an implied direct object and for the most part I really don’t care. I mean if people have this predetermined direct object of a person meaning “This sucks d*ck” when they say “This sucks” then get your mind out of the gutter. That’s all I have to say about that

  13. Vickie Carpenter permalink

    “This is yucky” would work, or “This yucks”, maybe?

  14. Thanks for the thoughts. I’ve wondered what to make of this term since while substitute teaching I used it only to have the kids tell me it was a no-no. A week later in another district sat a book prominently placed against the whiteboard called “Math that Doesn’t Suck.”

    Personally, when I do use ‘sucks,’ I don’t use it as a transitive verb, and I suspect others also think of it as an independent verb. I think it has developed a different form over time and ‘to suck’ is a concept unto itself.

  15. Anonymous permalink

    Good article well done!

  16. J Vanek permalink

    It’s actually misogynistic, because what is presumed to suck d*ck? Women and gay men (who are equated with a womanly status). To say that some thing sucks is to complain of its inferiority or disappointment or humiliation, but in doing so, it relies on an analogy comparing it to a fellator, which is ignoble because it is considered a degrading or at the very least a subordinating, masochistic act. To suck is to be defeated, or dominated or owned; to be on the humiliated side of a sadomasochistic interaction. Both the literal image and the tacit acceptance (via casual, unthinking use of this language) of the general framework that creates such interactions are offensive.

    • I understand where you’re coming from.

      That’s why it’s sometimes important to add a direct object, such as “This sucks the fun out of everything!” or the other examples I used earlier in this post.

      If you think of “sucks” like that, there’s no misogyny. Then you can accuse other people of having dirty minds for thinking “This sucks” means sucking…you know what.

  17. Anonymous permalink

    I am an English learner and was wondering if Suck is a bad word to use and google sent me your blog. It was fun to read and helpful to understand!!

  18. Michael C. permalink

    Not only is it bad, but misogynist as well. Its origin is certainly “sucks dick”, and comes from the attitude that anyone who does that is a filthy receptacle for male sexual pleasure, to be used then scorned and tossed asideafter. Who sucks dick? Women mostly, and gay men. Do we really want to hold these people up as the standard of contempt? It might have been ok if sucks meant something was really good, based on an appreciation of the person performing this kind and generous deed, but that’s not what it means. So the word is deeply offensive.

    • rodrigodesalvobraz permalink

      I agree. The blogger realizes “sucks” comes from “sucks dick”, and yet somehow concluded that it is not a bad word. I did not follow his reasoning.

      • Anonymous permalink

        perhaps because while the word has such an origin it does not mean that it still means that way, or even that people think of it that way.. I am 100% sure that a majority of the people who use the word don’t even know if this origin. and even after learning of the origin I am sure most people aren’t thinking of it in such a way.

  19. Anonymous permalink

    When I was watching a movie with my parents and my dad rewinded the movie on accident and i said boo this movie player sucks for fun and then my mom got mad at me because I said the word sucks she said that it is a bad word in my head I was like is sucks a bad word??thats how I got here

  20. Alison Ferraro permalink

    Any word substituted for the real meaning is a bad slang gang word. Whenever people don’t know the appropriate word to say they use a quick slang bad word instead. Better to learn proper speaking & useful constructive words for building up. Bad English. Good morning is better than just morning.

  21. Anonymous permalink

    It’s not misogynistic, homophobic, or sexual at all. It originates from trumpet playing. They used to say a good player ‘blows’ and a bad player ‘sucks’

  22. anon permalink

    now first off I love my stepmother she is an amazing person but there is one thing I had always disagreed with when I would I would spend my summers with her my dad and siblings, and that is that she considered sucks to be a swear word and even made it a house rule. I remember getting in trouble a few times after some slip ups saying things like this sucks or that sucks . it didn’t help having several younger siblings that were very trigger happy with taddeling lol but I hated it so much because it was such a regular way for me to express my distaste . it was one thing that the usual swear words weren’t allowed even with things at my mothers house being a lot more lax we being very casual with swear words growing up as long as they weren’t directed towards our mother it was fair game. but I was pretty adapted to censoring myself in places where such language was inappropriate, ie school around grandparents, at various friends places but being at my dads house and having that extra word that was very much exclusively not allowed there was a huge struggle lol. so yeah safe to say I definitely don’t believe it should be considered a swear word

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