David Chess wrote a short micro review of The Two Towers film the other day (“it kinda sucked”). Then, the day after that, he shared that a reader had sent some email berating him for using the word “suck” in a pejorative sense. Here’s the mail that David quoted:
Have you thought about what it means when you say that the two towers “sucked”? To me, it says “I didn’t like the movie, and by the way, people who perform oral sex on men are bad.” I think oral sex is positive, so I wouldn’t want to describe something I didn’t like as “sucking”.
First of all, if you’re only sucking while performing oral sex on men, the women in your life are getting seriously short-changed. But that’s really not my point here.
My point here is this: this is a bullshit argument, because it ignores one of the best things about English — the way that context shapes and influences the meaning of what’s actually said. Sometimes when something is “bad”, it’s actually bad — but other times, it’s good — and generally speaking, most native English speakers don’t have a problem distinguishing the actual meaning of “bad” from the context in which it’s used. The expression “fuck me” is another prime example — that can be used as anything from a whispered exclamation of dismay to a husky-throated command to a shout of rage, and the fact that the
first and third of those are often negative situations doesn’t mean that the second isn’t a very, very nice thing to hear, generally speaking.
What I’m arguing for here, I guess, is that we don’t give in to requests that we reduce the expressivity of our writing (and “sucks” is a expressive, albeit greatly overused, word) just because some people are too literal to realize that which meaning of an overloaded word applies in a given situation.
One additional note: this doesn’t excuse the use of overloaded words that have negative connotations in ways that are obviously meant to emphasize that negative connection — see David’s remarks regarding “gay” on that same day, which I’m in total agreement with.