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I recently came across a couple usages of 'sucker for' which indicates that it means 'crazy about', 'enthusiastic for', or 'interested in'. For example, 'I am a sucker for sports.', seems to say, 'I am a sports enthusiast.'.

My questions are:

  1. What does 'sucker for' actually mean?
  2. Can you elaborate with some typical usage?
  3. Is it appropriate to use it in formal conversations e.g. while talking to a client?
  4. 'Sucker', afaik, is used to indicate a 'loser'. If my understanding above is correct... how does 'sucker for' becomes an indication of an enthusiast and not of a loser? (I know 'suck at' indicates a loser.)

Thanks

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Here's part of the answer, the origin/meaning of 'sucker for' –  Xantix Sep 10 '12 at 6:16

5 Answers 5

up vote 40 down vote accepted

At least in my experience, "I'm a sucker for X" means that I am drawn to X regardless of what other characteristics X may have. The connection to sucker meaning something like loser, therefore, is that someone who is a sucker for something may get into a bad situation as a result, or at the very least enjoys X to a degree that seems injudicious and excessive.

This source, which does not seem like the greatest source, nonetheless offers three usage examples which seem fairly typical to me:

  1. I'm a sucker for a pretty face.

  2. Ted is a sucker for any dessert with whipped cream on it.

  3. I don't know why I volunteered for this job. I'm a sucker for punishment I guess.

All of these illustrate the concept that to be a sucker for something means to be attracted to it while being somewhat blind to its other qualities, suffering as a result. 1) would be most likely uttered in a context where the speaker is justifying how he got involved in a regrettable relationship - he shouldn't have been with this person for some reason, but he's a sucker for a pretty face. 2) implies that Ted not only likes whipped cream, but will automatically eat any dessert with whipped cream on it, no matter how tasteless the amount of whipped cream. 3) has the speaker sarcastically suggesting that, since her job is so unpleasant, nobody would have volunteered for it unless they were a sucker for punishment.

To answer your question about formality: this construction is so common that I would hesitate to call it slang, but it certainly feels a little informal. In your specific example scenario - speaking with a client - I would not use it.

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Great explanation. One last thing is still circling in my head is 'sucker' is a negative word. 'Sucker' is loser. 'Suck at' means 'not good at'. 'Sucker for' seems to be a more positive word much like 'I love it'. This sounds conflicting to me. –  Nishant Sep 10 '12 at 6:36
5  
@Nishant I think alcas has explained that very well. You lose out to your attraction to {whatever}, possibly against your better judgement. Sucker for is not necessarily a positive idiom. –  Andrew Leach Sep 10 '12 at 7:10
    
@AndrewLeach right, thanks. Thanks alcas for the explanation. –  Nishant Sep 10 '12 at 8:12
    
@Nishant: think about "sucker for" as "addicted to". Example 3: "I don't know why I volunteered for this job. I'm addicted to punishment I guess". –  dresende Sep 10 '12 at 8:13
    
@dresende yeah, got that. I guess in first go, I read it hurriedly. thanks. –  Nishant Sep 10 '12 at 8:14

"sucker for sports" means you will watch/play/purchase things related to sports without consideration of what other qualities it has other than being a "sport". "sucker for football" would mean you will watch, buy, engage in anything football related with little or no regard to its other qualities other than it is football related. This is usually in a negative way, most of the time, self-deprecating in a light-hearted manner.

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The origin was discussed here

origin of sucker:

“young mammal before it is weaned”, late 14c., agent noun from suck. Slang meaning “person who is easily deceived” is first attested 1836, in American English, on notion of naivete; the verb in this sense is from 1939. But another theory traces the slang meaning to the fish called a sucker (1753), on the notion of being easy to catch in their annual migrations.

"I'm a sucker for sports", basically means, "I haven't grown out of sports, and I can't help but want more of it."

Usage Examples

  • I'm a sucker for sports.
  • I'm a sucker for red heads.
  • She's a sucker for jewelry.

Formal ?

I would say it is informal.

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thanks for the answer. I kind of knew the meaning, it wasn't just fitting in the sentences for me. –  Nishant Sep 10 '12 at 8:16

The NOAD gives the following description for a sucker for:

2 . (a sucker for) a person particularly susceptible to or fond of a specified thing: I always was a sucker for a good fairy tale.

The same source marks the expression informal.

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'fond of' yeah this word -- I take this word as a positive word (unless used sarcastically), while 'sucker' rings as 'boo!' (perhaps my own mental circuitry) in my mind. It was confusing. But I am more at ease with it. :) thanks for the answer. –  Nishant Sep 10 '12 at 8:21

The original meaning of sucker is, in the OED’s definition, ‘A young mammal before it is weaned; a child at the breast’. It’s a small step for it to take on the figurative sense of ‘A greenhorn, simpleton’, first recorded in the United States in 1838. From there it has come to mean someone who is gullible, and, by further extension, someone whose enthusiasm for something is so great that it will persist in the face of all obstacles. It also means, apparently, an inhabitant of the state of Illinois.

It’s definitely informal.

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so, 'suck at' is being a loser, 'sucker for' is being an enthusiast? –  Nishant Sep 10 '12 at 6:39
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One of the slang meanings of ‘suck’ recorded in the OED is the intransitive ‘To be contemptible or disgusting’, as in this 1978 citation: ‘All the hotels have the same pictures. The last one, the food sucked.’ In recent years ‘suck at’ has, as you suggest, been used transitively to mean ‘be unsuccessful at’. –  Barrie England Sep 10 '12 at 6:56
    
thanks for the answer. –  Nishant Sep 10 '12 at 8:17

protected by RegDwigнt Sep 10 '12 at 14:59

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