Monday, April 02, 2007

Sucks, Niggardly and Other Words

I have to quibble with my favorite minister-I've-never-met, Rev. Christine at iMinister. She takes on the phrase, "It sucks," and gently denounces it for its homophobic backstory.

I agree that part of the meaning can be referring to male-male oral sex, however, "sucks" as a pejorative goes back farther. Growing up with a country-boy father, I was familiar with the various permutations of "sucks eggs." Such as in the first chapter of Tom Sawyer, when the stranger-boy says to Tom, ""You can lump that hat if you don't like it. I dare you to knock it off-and anybody that'll take a dare will suck eggs."

I will not be so disingenuous as to suggest that modern teens, when saying, "You suck!" are parenthetically adding "eggs" to the end. However, I think an argument can be made that the current casual usage -- "It sucks," "You suck," etc. -- are completing a circle of meanings. Original: innocent, "sucks eggs" --> at some point, became affiliated with sexual meaning --> has been used so much that it has lost the prior extreme offensiveness.

I am not advocating the usage of the phrase, frankly, it's just not very eloquent, is it? And no matter the origin, there is an offensive shadow that goes with it. To me, it is similar to the word "niggardly." Now that word has nothing to with the "n-word" -- in fact, its etymology is from Middle English/Scandinavia. However, there has been an assumption that one comes from the other; in fact, some public figures and writers have been excoriated for using it. I have certainly dropped it from my vocabulary.

However, for me, unlike "niggardly" which doesn't particularly seem to give more meaning than "stingy," there are some situations in which "sucks" just seems to be the right word. For me, anyway. "Stinks" just doesn't hold the same punch. The lack of eloquence in "sucks," its crudity, becomes part of its desirability.

Of all the things said to me right after LW was diagnosed, the one that stands out was when my friend MouseFace said, "I don't know what to say except that this really sucks."

The cut-to-the-chase-ness, the crudity ... it was the perfect thing to say.

So, me, I'll keep it. Cuz that situation really did suck eggs.

3 comments:

Christine Robinson said...

I have no objection to "it sucks" as a response to "my baby has cancer." There's no response extreme enough for that situation.

But for bad weather, delayed airplanes, too much homework and other run-of-the mill difficulties in life, I stick to my guns.

Boobless Brigade Master said...

Yeah. Call me a bad parent.
We (the Ex and I) tried for years to get Daisy to say a curse word. It was a running joke with each passing year. Even with her friends, who swore she never used any curse words in our absence and made fun of her because of it.

We couldn't even get her to say "The vacuum sucks dirt".

Now don't get me wrong...we were of course thrilled that she didn't have a foul mouth...it was all joke.

She did finally say her first curse word though, at the tender age of 14.
After her knee surgery and her first trip to her Physical Terrorist (as she called him), she sat in the back seat of my car with tears streaming down her face.
And I told her, "I won't tell a soul Daisy, just go ahead and say that it sucks."
And she did.
And then, of course, I said, "You know I lied right? I HAVE to tell people!"
Which made her giggle for a minute and forget about the pain.

Now, she's 17 and although she types curse words on her blog or in comments on occasion...she still doesn't say any and all of her friends still make fun of her.
Me? I'm a proud Mama.
I'm proud because she doesn't take after me...the one that sounds like a truck driver lately. Sigh.

uuMomma said...

This post reminded me of y reaction when I first read iMinister's riff on "sucks." I posted on my site.

But, as I showered this a.m., I was reminded of being in high school (yes, I can remember back that far!) when the phrase we used most often was: "that sucks eggs through a straw!"

And, of course, this was used at those most heinous occasions, like being grounded or having the car taken from us or McDonald's taking too long with our lunch order.

Still, your post and Rev. Christine's response, have me now thinking in new ways: ala Elaine on Seinfeld, I will now ask myself, "is this suck-worthy?"

Take care,