Jesse Sheidlower on Morning Edition

Doug Harris cats22 at FRONTIERNET.NET
Thu Mar 27 16:39:43 UTC 2008

Another reason why you can't always believe (at face value, anyway) all
you "read" in the media.
The reporter 9and producer) obviously meant well, but didn't really
understanding the subject well enough to make accurate use of quotes.
Still, I wouldn't go so far as to say the feature _sucked_.

This seems to imply that perception is what counts in etymology, which is
obviously NOT what Jesse meant, whether we are talking about "sucks,"
"niggardly," or "pussy." The confusion is compounded by Steven Pinker's use=
of himself as
an informant in the same article:

"When I was a kid and you said something sucks," says Pinker, "it was

clear what sexual act they were referring back to." But today kids have no
idea. The term is just part of their common language.
 Perception Is Everything
 Frequent use, over time, has stripped away the original connotation.

says the evolution of "sucks" is similar to that of "jerk" or "sucker."

As I pointed out a number of years ago in my DICTIONARIES article (2001;
22, 130-144), no one can say definitively what is the origin of "sucks" (in
the sense of, say, "Pinker's intuition Sucks," which is a relatively new
slang and seems to have largely replaced "stinks"). The language has many
pejorative "suck" expressions that predate the suck =3D stink usage (e.g.,
"thumb-sucker," "suck the hind tit").

The American Dialect Society -

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