Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Outrageous, Ridiculous, and Just Plain Suck

Posted by Neal on May 2, 2008

From today’s Columbus Dispatch:

Most say the gas prices are outrageous, ridiculous and just plain suck.
(Tim Doulin, “Going numb, gallon by gallon,” p. A4)

I am shocked and disgusted to read this kind of language in the newspaper! Here, I’ll fix it:

Most say the gas prices are outrageous, ridiculous and just plain sucky.

That’s better. Instead of the non-parallel coordination of the tree on the left, we have the nice, parallel coordination of the tree on the right.








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10 Responses to “Outrageous, Ridiculous, and Just Plain Suck”

  1. Ran said

    Or

    Most say the gas prices are outrageous and ridiculous and just plain suck.

  2. Neal said

    Yeah, that’d work, too. Or, are outrageous, are ridiculous, and just plain suck.”

  3. Viola said

    I like Neal’s sucky. Kind of a childlike twist on the very blunt suck. Sucky is a word I might be able to use around my children (only to broaden their vocabulary, of course) without getting a grimace from my husband.

  4. michael said

    But…

    There are uses of ‘suck’ as an adjective out there. “That is so suck” “that’s really suck”…

    After “just plain” it could be either I guess. But when I first read your title I read it as an adjective. When I read the quote it then sounded like the verb. In a simplified form the parallel structure obviously had a stronger pull.

  5. Neal said

    Thanks, Michael, for this new-to-me usage of suck as an adjective. I don’t know why someone would want to adjective this verb when there’s already the perfectly good sucky (well, if you disregard the low productivity of -y as a verb-to-adjective suffix), but that’s neither here nor there. Clearly, Tim Doulin must be one of these speakers.

    This reminds me of when Glen told me how New Yorkers would use ass as an adjective meaning “unfair, not right”: “Aw, man, that is so ass!”

  6. The Ridger said

    That’s just like “should not be used by women who are pregnant, nursing, or might become pregnant”, which is all too common.

  7. Ingeborg S. Nordén said

    Verb-to-adjective use of the -y suffix is indeed rare in English. Still, “sucky” feels wrong to me, because most such adjectives describe tendencies instead of outright value judgments. Three G-rated examples that come to mind: “weepy” (inclined to weep), “wobbly” (likely to wobble), and “crumbly” (likely to crumble). “Cuddly” might count as a value judgment, but it describes other people’s behavior towards something (or somebody). “Sucky” gas prices aren’t getting sucked by the people complaining…

    With that in mind, I’d favor Ran’s solution to the coordination problem: adding an “and” between the adjectives, which creates two parallel verb phrases (“are outrageous and ridiculous”/”just plain suck”).

  8. But isn’t “suck” being used as a verb?

    “The gas prices just plain suck” with an elided object.

  9. Neal said

    OtherMichael: Yes, and that was my original point. The sentence is coordinating two adjectives and a verb. To make it parallel, I changed the verb to an adjective. Other options were to put an and between the two adjectives so that we ended up with a coordination of two verb phrases (are ridiculous and outrageous and just plain suck), or to add another are to go with outrageous so that we ended up with a coordination of three verb phrases. And the option proposed by Michael was to stubbornly take suck to be an adjective. It’s possible. I don’t think that’s what the writer was doing, though: I think he was coordinating two adjectives and a verb.

  10. […] by Neal on May 16, 2008 When I wrote about gas prices that “are outrageous, ridiculous, and just plain suck,” The Ridger […]

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