USA Today on "sucks "

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Sat Oct 1 00:45:40 UTC 2005

On Fri, 30 Sep 2005 13:56:21 -0400, Laurence Horn wrote:
>At 1:26 PM -0400 9/30/05, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>>On Fri, 30 Sep 2005 13:10:58 -0400, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>>It could be (I'd say should be) argued that there's a generally
>>>tendency for these non-episodic intransitives to be understood
>>>euphemistically, i.e. with an unarticulated object one would just as
>>>soon not specify explicitly:
>>>X sucks/blows
>>>Y swallows
>>>W drinks [sc. '...alcohol']
>>>W smells [sc. '...bad']
>>>(The last isn't agentive, to be sure, but the 'smells bad' sense
>>>represents a similar development.)
>>There's also "X bites". HDAS has:
>>  to be exceptionally hateful, disappointing, unfair, etc.; SUCK. --
>>  also constr. with _it_, or followed by various phrases sugg. fellatio
>>  (for which see _bite the big one_, below) or coprophila.
>Right, "bite(s)".  I nominate "the euphemistic absolute" for this
>constructional pattern.

There's also "X kicks" (as in the 1984 HDAS cite "That song kicks; it's
bitchin"), but that one appears much more frequently with a vulgar object
("ass" or euph. "butt"/"tail"). Unlike "stinks"/"sucks"/"bites"/"blows",
"kicks (ass)" belongs with positive intransitives like "rocks"/"rules".
("X rocks" and "X rules" tend not to have expanded transitive forms,
although one sometimes sees "X rocks my world", "X rules the school", etc.
-- nothing  potentially vulgar.)

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list