Does “this sucks” suck?

Over at Andrew Sullivan’s site, a reader writes in to condemn the phrase “sucks” (as in “this sucks” or “you suck”) as being homophobic. His allegation is that the phrase refers to the sucking of a penis which is a common homosexual act and therefore, by the logic of the insult, homosexuality itself is being condemned.

There’s probably something to this and the same could be applied to the term “blows” (like “this restaurant blows, man!”) But of course not only gay men suck or blow; heterosexual women have been known to engage in the practice. (Thanks gals!)

But I think there’s more to the story. Let’s consider the mother of all swear expressions: fuck. Like “you’re fucked” or “fuck you!” (We can also consider fuck’s lesser cousin, “screw.”) Fucking is not a behavior limited to homosexual men. But the term is considered pejorative. So what do fucking, sucking and blowing all have in common? A person on one side of the equation is being penetrated. Some orifice of their personhood is being violated. They have lost control of or ceded the limits of their body. It’s this logic that ultimately drives the insult value of these terms, and I even made this case while explaining the titling of my article “Dean Koontz Can Blow Me!!!

Who or what can be a target of an “…Can Blow Me” article? Anyone really… Obviously this is not meant to be literal… The “…Can Blow Me” concept is based on the simple premise that during the fellatio, the “blower” is subservient to the “blowee.”

Now we can argue who is really subservient to who during these sex acts. I’m sure more than one guy in history has literally begged his partner for a blow job. But you get the point.

Interestingly, I just came across a section in Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget” that relates to this. He makes the point that there may be a correlation between how we interpret language and how we we interpret smells. He first notes that there are two kinds of smells. There’s general smells, like a daisy or old books, then there’s pheromones: “strong odors given off by other animals (usually of the same species), typically related to fear or mating.” He continues…

Language offers an interesting parallel. In addition to the normal language we all use to describe objects and activities, we reserve a special language to express extreme emotion or displeasure, to warn others to watch out or get attention. This language is called swearing.

There are specific neural pathways associated with this type of speech; some Tourette‟s patients, for instance, are known to swear uncontrollably. And it‟s hard to overlook the many swear words that are related to orifices or activities that also emit pheremonic olfactory signals. Could there be a deeper connection between these two channels of “obscenity”?

Could phrases like “suck,” “blow,” “fuck,” “screw,” “cunt,” “twat,” “asshole,” “balls,” “ballsack,” “dick,” “cock” etc. have strong emotional connotations because they are connected to powerful, pheromone related smells?

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