Sucker punch seems to mean "an unexpected punch" in slang. What is the origin of this term and why does sucker mean unexpected in sucker punch?

  • 5
    I don't have a definitive etymology of the term, and even the Oxford English Dictionary doesn't offer any help with this one. However, sucker is often used to mean a naive or stupid person, one who is easily taken advantage of. In boxing, a person who doesn't protect himself at all times could certainly be described as a sucker.
    – Nicholas
    Aug 1, 2011 at 10:16

2 Answers 2


The sucker here has a much longer history than some would have you believe. Basically, sucker punch derives from one of the meanings of the word sucker (NOAD):

sucker 2 informal a gullible or easily deceived person.

Therefore, a "sucker" would be easy to fool with a surprise punch. Etymonline dates the use of the term to 1836, and it appears to derive from the expression for a young mammal before it is weaned, i.e. one that is still sucking at its mother's teat.

Note that despite what Thursagen states, Etymonline also gives different dates for the term suckerpunch:

suckerpunch (n.)
also sucker punch, 1926, from sucker + punch. Figurative use by 1929. As a verb by 1942. Related: Sucker-punched.

  • 1
    My thoughts exactly. The implication in boxing would be you've been suckered by an unexpected or rather underhand blow. Wikipedia says the term is generally reserved for situations where the way in which the blow has been delivered is considered unfair or unethical
    – JoseK
    Aug 1, 2011 at 10:26
  • The sucker in the expression means that if we fight face to face, you have a chance to see a punch coming, but I treat you like a sucker or fool if I surprise you on the side or back, when you cannot see. So the sucker punch is any sneak attack, a form of cheating by treating you like dirt, not a peer deserving of respect and rules. Feb 1, 2017 at 17:08

Its origin is in boxing,:

An unexpected blow, as in They felt that suddenly raising the interest rate was a sucker punch to the administration . This expression comes from boxing, where it is used for a punch delivered unexpectedly; boxing great Jack Dempsey wrote, "The right lead [for a right-handed boxer] is called a sucker punch." [Slang; mid-1900s]

Here states the exact date:

An unexpected punch that catches a person completely off guard. The term sucker punch dates back to 1947 in the sport of boxing.

Why? Being coined by Jack Dempsey who just called it a sucker punch for his reasons, I think it'd be hard to find out. Try asking Jack.

  • 6
    There's no evidence that Dempsey coined it; he just offered an early definition of the term. Indeed, your ringsidebygus.com quotation states that the term dates to 1947, but the Dempsey quotation comes from his book Championship Fighting, which was published in 1950.
    – Nicholas
    Aug 1, 2011 at 10:12
  • 2
    Dempsey may not have coined the term, but he popularized it. That's why it is associated with him.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 1, 2011 at 12:43
  • 3
    @Tom Au - IMHO the person responsible for popularizing something generally deserves the accolades traditionally given them. I do not agree with the modern mania for trying to find the absolute first use, no matter how obscure.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 1, 2011 at 13:03

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