Yesterday, a relative stranger had occasion to tell me that Bruce Springsteen sucks. The stranger is, I am proud/ashamed to say, still alive.
But it got me thinking about the word sucks. The stranger's word choice was poor in this case, because he knew nothing at all about Springsteen. Thought, in fact, that Bruce Springsteen sang I'm Proud to be an American *shudders*. The stranger's willingness to jump in with the opinion that someone about whom he knows less than nothing made him, not just to Bruce nuts, sound really, really ignorant.
Which made me think about the fact that I accuse things of sucking all the time. I ran across this Slate article making the case for the word sucks. The author of the article, however, seems to be speaking only to arguments that the word is vulgar and grammatically iffy. Neither the author nor I is even sure that the word has vulgar origins. While no one seems sure of the exact etymology, there's the expression sucks to that was used way back in the day; for example, in Lord of the Flies, Ralph often says of Piggy's asthma, sucks to your ass-mar. Sucks and suck up could certainly be references to oral sex, but sucks to doesn't seem like it would be.
Anyway, my problem with sucks isn't its vulgarity or whatever, its just that the word, well, it kind of sucks. It doesn't mean anything, really. It, like good, bad, and special is a throwaway word; a lazy word one uses when one's too lazy to make a rational argument that includes facts. My stranger used the word sucks because he didn't know enough to say that Bruce's lyrics can be pedantic and maudlin, when you can understand a word of them. The stranger would still be an idiot because Bruce Springsteen is God, and therefore incapable of pedantry. But he would have seemed at least a bit less ignorant.
So that got me thinking that I probably use the word sucks in ignorance as well. If I know enough about something to make a well-reasoned critique, why would I need such a pointless word? Now, sometimes, of course, sucks is the only word that'll do the job. Getting hit on the head with a metal pipe sucks, no need to make a well-reasoned argument for that one. I mean, I guess it sucks unless you're Mama Cass.
But I'm thinking, actually, that the word sucks really never needs to be pointed at humans. It's ignorant and rude as well as... well, people shouldn't turn into garbage with one word. Maybe.
Except for the stranger who talked bad about my Bruce. That dude sucks.
*Nick Hornby/Ben Folds (Guess which album I bought recently.)