The origin of blow = suck, be bad/unpleasant recently came up in comments to this ELL question.

I'd always assumed it was a standard slang "meaning reversal" from suck. But a few minutes on Google failed to confirm this for me, and in that ELL link, Feral Oink credibly suggests it's from blow chunks - to be very bad, inadequate, unpleasant, or miserable; to thoroughly suck.

Does anyone know when and why the usage arose?

  • I've never heard the expression. Is this UK slang? – TrevorD Sep 3 '13 at 16:00
  • I am very sure it is a synonym to this sucks – mplungjan Sep 3 '13 at 16:02
  • 1
    @TrevorD: I would have guessed it started in the US myself, but that's probably because I assume it's related to sucks (which I also think is of US origin). Of the two authors in my first link, I can't establish the nationality of the first (Ross Stein), but the second (Ernest Cline) is definitely American. – FumbleFingers Sep 3 '13 at 16:05
  • 1
    Interesting, I'd always though it came from "this sucks balls" which is close though not quite fellatio. – terdon Sep 3 '13 at 17:27
  • 1
    @J.R. - I know that joke with Oklahoma in the middle and KS and TX on the sides (as a resident of Oklahoma, that makes sense). I think this is actually a very important point, as that joke makes no sense unless you can count on an audience that knows both meanings for both words. So you could probably trace the origins of both terms to the states that feature in the middle of versions of this joke. – T.E.D. Sep 3 '13 at 18:01

The OED’s definition 15f of suck is ‘To be contemptible or disgusting’. The earliest citation is from 1971. The OED relates it to the noun suck, Canadian slang for ‘A worthless or contemptible person’. This in turn may or may not (the OED doesn’t say) have something to do with ‘sucks’ used, particularly by children, as an expression of contempt.

The OED also has an entry for blow as a draft addition in 2009, where the definition is given as ‘To be contemptible, tiresome, or disagreeable’. It is described as North American slang, and there is a cross reference to suck. The earliest citation predates the earliest citation for derogatory suck by 11 years.

  • 1
    Do we suppose that Canadian usage derived from (US?) sucker? Or maybe it's just a euphemistic variant on fuck (as in "You useless fuck!" – FumbleFingers Sep 3 '13 at 16:51
  • 1
    I suspect any resemblance in the sound is incidental. The use of sucker to mean, in the OED’s definition, ‘A greenhorn, simpleton’ seems to be related to the use of the term to describe a young mammal before it is weaned. – Barrie England Sep 3 '13 at 17:42
  • A post on this thread quotes the OED as giving examples of suck in a negative context from 1913. I don't have access to an OED at the moment, does yours not confirm this? – terdon Sep 3 '13 at 17:54
  • It does. It's where I got the fourth sentence of my answer from. – Barrie England Sep 3 '13 at 18:04
  • +1ing this just for finding the most relevant OED reference and making it available to us meer peons. – T.E.D. Sep 3 '13 at 19:23

I have a 1983 script from an Off-Broadway revue which includes the line "our foreign policy blows dead rats."

This suggests that blows and sucks are parallel derivations (in their sexual meaning).

This is not related to "blow chunks", which refers to vomiting.

  • 1
    Well, again I can vouch for personally having used "blows" as a synonym for "sucks" earlier than '83. So IMHO this find isn't early enough to be enlightening on the matter. Look at scripts for movies aimed at teenagers, and I bet you'll find several earlier references. – T.E.D. Sep 3 '13 at 19:34
  • Is this a variation of "That blows chunks"? (Which may or may not be the source for "That blows".) – Hugo Sep 3 '13 at 19:37
  • I used it earlier myself (I was in that revue), but I figure citations are better than anecdotes. – egrunin Sep 3 '13 at 19:39
  • 1
    I disagree, but then, my sadly downvoted response makes this clear enough, I guess. On another hand, where's your documentation? I could say I had a document in my position to support my answer, then @FumbleFingers would have to take his downvote back. So scan the doc and post it on Flickr or something. :-) – Cyberherbalist Sep 3 '13 at 20:34
  • @Cyberherbalist: While there may be cases as you describe, the meaning of this particular instance is not ambiguous; so there's really nothing to disagree with here. The name of the revue was "Off the Wall (or Did I Put My Foot in Your Mouth?)" – egrunin Sep 3 '13 at 20:58

Did some research on this based on information in the comments.

There appear to be two schools of thought on the etymology of the adjective "sucks".

The first is that it comes from relative innocuous roots (one possible example: the phrase "suck eggs", which can be found in the works of Mark Twain).

The second is that the roots of the term are in its older meaning of fellatio. For example, Etymology Online's entry says:

Meaning "do fellatio" is first recorded 1928. Slang sense of "be contemptible" first attested 1971 (the underlying notion is of fellatio).

This better matches the traditional intent of the word (as a longtime user from at least the mid-70's), as well as the variants often heard in the wild (which invariably are elaborations on the theme of oral sex). Still, it would be tough to say which, if indeed either, interpretation is correct.

As for "blows", I couldn't find much. Supposedly it originates from the USA in the 80's. I did happen to be a big user of the word myself, as a teenager in the early 80's. I know my peers (in the middle of the USA) used it as a nearly exact synonym for "sucks", for those occasions when that word had been used enough that its impact may not quite be as hefty as desired. Really its best to alternate.

As a near synonym, it had the same vulgar connotations to us as "sucks". However, it is true that one could tack on "monkey chunks" to transform it into a slightly different vulgarity (making it a bit more versatile, and thus preferred by some of my fellow connoisseurs of angst). I can't for sure say if the "monkey chunks" predated the lone sense of "blows", so exactly which of the two bodily actions it was originally intended to imply can perhaps only be discerned through further research. Possibly a good dissertation for someone in the offing here.

  • 2
    I'm very sorry that for the second half (the actual germane portion) I was forced to rely on myself as a primary source, rather than research. If anyone can find a good reference that realistically predates my own experience with it, please speak up. – T.E.D. Sep 3 '13 at 18:49

I have always understood "this blows" to be a shortened form of "this blows chunks", or, in other words, "this causes me to vomit". That's what those chunks are -- your stomach contents on display. Although nobody actually vomits.

It has the same general meaning of "this sucks", that is, something which is bad or unacceptable. But "sucks" in this usage has reference to certain obscene conduct and not to the opposite of vomiting.

  • 5
    You'll probably think I'm being a bit harsh, but -1 for simply repeating a possible origin that I've already mentioned in the question, with no supporting references. (I'll go and find one of your earlier answers that I can upvote, to balance things out! :) – FumbleFingers Sep 3 '13 at 16:43
  • You're being harsh? Oh, @FumbleFingers don't worry about it. What about the other downvoter, then? On the other hand, my introductory phrase "I have always understood..." clearly signifies that this is my opinion, based upon my 60 years of speaking this incredibly fascinating language. I thought I got extra credit for finding references to support my assertions, but to this point I wasn't aware my opinion needed supporting documentation. If I were to say, "I think you are a very nice person", would you expect proof? :-) – Cyberherbalist Sep 3 '13 at 20:29

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.