Is “Sucks” A Bad Word?
“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. It ticked me off so much that I even wrote this ebook about it .
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?
When I was a kid, I was punished for saying the word crap.
It ticked me off so much that I wrote this ebook, Crap Is NOT a Bad Word!
And here is the true story of my one moment of high school glory!