Suck Wind? 
Posted: 29 July 2008 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve been puzzling over the origin and meaning of this phrase for the past few weeks.  I heard it from retired NYC cop who used it to mean, “to be broke,” i.e. to have no money.  Most of the usage I’ve found online has been, in what I’m sure is incorrect, similar in meaning to “suck” but with a bit more emphasis.  One or two things I’ve found have hinted at a sailing origin, which is what I consider the most believable.  One business headline read, “Wal-Mart Continues to Suck Wind from All Other Retailers” and the article was about Wal-Mart sales going up during the current economic downturn while most other retailers are experiencing declining sales.  Anyone have an idea?

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Posted: 29 July 2008 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’ve only previously heard it to mean “suck in air”, either in the case of someone breathing heavily (after exertion, etc.:"He was sucking wind by the time he got to the third floor.") or in the case of machinery leaking or pulling air inward inappropriately (e.g. “Not only is there no water pressure, when you open the faucet it sucks wind.")

Certainly there are nautical expressions referring to positioning one ship so that it is upwind of another: I’ve heard “taking the wind out of their sails” or “stealing their wind” (the former well generalized as an stock expression even in non-nautical situations), but I’ve never heard “suck” in this context.  I tend to suspect that “suck the wind out of their sails” is a latter-day conflation of “suck wind” with those genuinely nautical phrases, though if someone turns up an actual usage from the age of sail I’d have to reconsider.

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Posted: 29 July 2008 10:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I confess i’ve never heard the expression. To me it suggests an infant, suckling ineffectually at its mother’s bosom --- most infants suck some wind, which must subsequently be expelled as a burp (oh most musical of words!), or belch, or grepps (Yiddish), or borborygm.  In a figurative sense, the exprssion suggests working hard at some activity, with little tangible benefit. Of course all this is purest speculation, but as languagehat recently reminded us, what isn’t?

I wouldn’t trust Internet usage about anything to do with language. One of the most horrifying things about most users of the Internet is their ingnorance, and consequent shoddy misuse, of the language they are trying to communicate in. This site, language-wise, is like a tiny island of light in an immense ocean of darkness --- that is one of the reasons why I love it.

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Posted: 30 July 2008 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’ve always understood it to be a reference to athletics. To suck wind is to be tired, gasping for air.

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Posted: 30 July 2008 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I agree with Dave; I’ve heard the expression a number of times, always in the context of an exhausted athlete.

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