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What does this phrase mean?

I never give a sucker an even break.

Does it mean that the author of this saying is unwilling to offer somebody who he doesn't like a break/rest while he is working?

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That's not the quotation. It's not a declarative sentence with "I" as subject; rather, it's an imperative: Never Give A Sucker An Even Break, which is the title of a movie by W.C. Fields. – John Lawler Mar 26 '13 at 17:34
You are wrong. It's from a book that I am reading right now. And it's exactly "I never give a sucker an even break." Btw. why do you think that your google search is the only "true" source and you are right? Thank you in advance. – Derfder Mar 26 '13 at 17:53
@Derfder: The "catchphrase" probably didn't exist (if it did at all, it would have been virtually unknown) before the 1941 film that popularised it. Today it's a commonplace cliche, so you'll find slight variations such as your citation in all sorts of contexts. It just means [I] take advantage of fools. An even break means a fair chance. – FumbleFingers Mar 26 '13 at 18:05
Including the source of a quote (book title?) would have been helpful in your question since the quote from your book, as @FumbleFingers suggested, most likely came after the phrase became a cliché. – Kristina Lopez Mar 26 '13 at 18:15
Actually, We who are about to Die: Prison as Seen by a Condemned Man (Pub 1935) says Advice to the Young: You know the saying, Never give a sucker an even break, so it obviously did predate the film. But I very much doubt it was particularly well-known back then. – FumbleFingers Mar 26 '13 at 18:35
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Here break is used in the sense of division. To give someone an even break is, centrally, to divide something fairly with them, and metaphorically, to make a fair deal with them.

A sucker is someone who is easily fooled. I can't give you an explanation for this one, but it's well-understood in colloquial American English.

Thus, someone who says "I never give a sucker an even break" means that they take advantage of fools at every opportunity. This is the motto of a con man, that is, someone whose profession is tricking people out of their money.

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In this case "sucker" refers to someone who is particularly gullible.

The sentence suggests that he will take advantage of a person (particularly, a gullible person [the sucker]) if the opportunity arises.

It has nothing to do with liking or not liking someone. It certainly has nothing to do with working.

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It's from carnival showman PT Barnum - he had games of chance in his carnival that you just could not win which explains the meaning on the phrase. The date he first said this was sometime in the 1800s so it was well before the Fields' movie.

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Hello Ajax. If this is true, it's a valuable answer. But on ELU, supported answers are what is required. I assume you didn't know P T Barnum personally, so have you evidence to corroborate what you claim? – Edwin Ashworth Feb 4 '15 at 23:13
Seems unlikely. As far as I can tell, it's more likely attributable to Edward Albee (See here, here and here). Investigation of Barnum's other "sucker" quote failed to turn up evidence that the word was even used disparagingly at the time, apparently. – femtoRgon Jul 27 '15 at 20:58

It means you should not be charitable and draw even with a sucker (a dumb person) just not to hurt his or her feelings. The sucker cannot and will not understand your graceful gesture and will take advantage of it claiming that he is at least on a par with you.

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protected by tchrist Jul 27 '15 at 21:34

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