By Alana Dore, Word Nerd
The word is suss. It means to realize, discover or find out. It is a shortened and altered version of the word suspect. Obviously. If you didn’t expect that, then your investigative skills are suss.
What you won’t be able to surmise purely on instinct is that the term evolved through a complex lineage. The earliest meaning of the word was documented in 1953 and defined as “to suspect a person of a crime.” The word was used mostly by police in Britain and adopted as a noun and in the phrase “on sus” to describe an individual being watched for suspicious behavior, particularly loitering.
Another popular phrase is “suss out,” which functions the same way the word does alone; it means to investigate or to find something out. The earliest-documented example of the phrase is in a 1966 issue of the publication “Queen,” which later merged with “Harper’s Bazaar.” Some hypothesize that it is the use of this phrase by British rock groups that popularized the term in the US. However it got here, the phrase has been used in song lyrics by the likes of Radiohead, Bob Marley and Sara Evans, proving just how much it has spread.
What’s most interesting about the term is the ways it can be used. While in British English the term was mostly used as a verb and in particular phrases like “on suss” and “sus out,” the term has found a new use in the vernacular of American youth.
In American English, the term can also be used as a verb but is often used as an adjective. When you hear the term in our vernacular, it will often be in a phrase structured similarly to “that boy is suss.” As in, that boy is acting in a suspicious manner. This can mean many things. Maybe he is acting unusual or different from the majority. Maybe it is his motivations that are suspicious or that his actions are seemingly innocuous, but there is a hidden agenda lurking beneath the surface.
When used in this manner, the term can be used as a negative attribute, indicating suspicion about where someone or something has been. For instance, when your roommate returns from a party on Mission Hill, you may shout: “Hey, you look suss. Go take a shower.” When used in this way, the individual or thing being described is being called dirty, either hygienically or with relation to their promiscuity. When returning from a party on The Hill, one never knows what the case may be.
While the first time I heard this term was during the musical episode of the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Once More with Feeling,” other – arguably cooler – people reading this might have heard it used regularly in popular British television. Although its roots lie across the pond, the term has been growing steadily throughout other English-speaking countries, especially America, since the late 1900s. Whether its slow rise predicts a longer residence in our collective vernacular is uncertain, but I’m betting it will last longer than swerve did.
– Alana Dore can be reached at Inside@HuntNewsNU.com.