The other day, over brunch with friends, one very accomplished lawyer in the group mentioned that his boss had corrected his pronunciation of “succinct.” My friend had been saying “suss-sinked” and his boss had insisted on “suck-sinked”. My friend recalled that he immediately changed the way he said it.
As a descriptivist and a “suss” person myself, I was shocked to hear about his prescriptive, “suck” boss. And even more shocked that my intelligent, sensitive, and perceptive friend didn’t call his boss out for being such a rigid “suck” person.
I told the story to my 19-year-old son and, free and ironic thinker that he is, he said that, no doubt, my friend’s boss what just “messing with him.” My son, the ironic thinker, is also not a lawyer—so he may have over-estimated the subtlety of humor that goes on in law offices. Then again, I’m not a lawyer either, so the jury is out on that one!
I next turned to social media to get a feel for the pulse on this word. What are Citizen Sociolinguists saying about it? First, I checked with my twitter feed. A quick poll (suck- or suss-?) revealed that everyone who cared enough to respond was a “suck” person. Really?
What about YouTube tutorials? What did they say?
The first several that pop up are all firmly “suck” videos. This is a representative (and the most viewed) example:
I was disappointed by this firmly “suck”-sided video, but happy to see that many comments on this and other similar tutorials contested this rigid prescription. And one even commented that he loved the dislikes (though, admittedly, his “love” seems tinged with irony):
Some suggested the absurdity of worrying about this:
Another comment zeroed in more specifically on the “suck” problem:
Finally, I found a “suss” demo. This video specifically labeled “suss” as an “Aussie” pronunciation. The producer of another video owned “suss” as a legitimate Aussie way of saying “succinct,” exemplifying it with a real Aussie bureaucrat’s speech. But this site also seemed to distance itself from this pronunciation, advising viewers not to “mix accents”:
Wait, is Australia part of the UK? Confusing indeed! My overall conclusion? People should pronounce “succinct” in whatever way suits their personal taste or situational needs.
And, if you ever get frustrated, or start worrying too much about whether “suck” or “suss” is “right” or “wrong,” consult this most fantastical and definitive pronunciation manual of all:
This is a sublime demonstration of the pronunciation of “PronunciationManual”. Sadly, however, this pronunciation manual has no entry for “succinct.” So, to conclude succinctly, I have an appeal: Could someone, or perhaps even the creators of The Pronunciation Manual, PLEASE make a guide for pronouncing “succinct.” This is one silly entry the world needs ASAP.
If you are still reading, please comment below! Are you a “SUCK” person or a “SUSS” person? How do you feel about “SUSS” when you hear it? Would you be willing to volunteer to make an entry for The Pronunciation Manual? Do you know any other word conundrums that need to be recorded there?
11 thoughts on “How to Pronounce “Succinct” (A Succinct Guide)”
Fascinating. I think that I am a “susser,” but I am in the midst of the linguist’s dilemma: How do I actually pronounce that word? None of the online dictionaries list “suss” as an option either, but seeing succinct listed under success and succession makes me see the (erm?) “correctness” (cough, cough) of saying “suck.” I wish my Latin pronunciation were better because, normally, I would defer to the Latin pronunciation, in this case of “succingere.” In short, if someone said “suss – sinked,” I would understand him/her, and I definitely wouldn’t go all “prescriptive police” on that person. It’s just rude. 🙂
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Okay, madclytie, I just reread this, over a year after you wrote it, and I’m curious: How did you choose your username? Does it have anything to do with the Latin, “succingere”?
It bothers me every time my wife says sussinct. I’ve asked her why it’s not the same as success. That didn’t help.
I’m 75 years old and have been firmly in the “suss” camp since I first learned the word, whenever that was. But then, I was raised in Oklahoma City.
I am a firm advocate for ‘suss’inct! I have no memory of this ever having a different pronunciation, or there ever being a debate regarding it. I was challenged on my pronunciation by a colleague. The same one, might I add, that ‘sh’ooled me about my pronunciation of “sh”edule vs “sk”edule. What to do? Live and learn
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Merriam-Webster — and most other dictionaries — lists suk-sinkt as the first pronunciation and suss-sinkt and the second. So I’m going with what I’ve used all my life: in a word with two c’s in a row, the first has a k sound, the second an s sound: accident, vaccine, eccentric. So, as you unpleasantly write it, suck-sinct.
I have always pronounced your last example as E Centric. I am also a susser.
DFrutkoff’s comment above is what has always been the rule in English, up until very recently. Dictionaries produced before the year 2000 carried the traditional sŭksi-ŋkt, as this from my 1971 OED.
I never remember hearing this “sussess” “susseed”, or “sussinct” before 2000. I believe it is a fear of the word “suck” that causes people to be herded into this cul-de-sac of dismantling civilization.
My two cents.
I was an Aussie ‘susser’ but, on reading the above, am resolved to change because the ‘suckers’ care more and I’d like them to be happy.
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There’s a clear rule for this: in English, the letter c is pronounced as a “k,” except when directly followed by one of the letters e/i/y, any of which cause the c to soften into an “s” sound.
This is why we pronounce the c like an “s” in words like city, century, mice, incident, ace, racy, or icy: in each of these words, the c is followed by e/i/y.
We pronounce the c as its usual “k” whenever it is followed by any other letter, or by no letter at all: cup, cat, copper, actual, sic, unctuous, manacle, dictionary, mic, lock, derelict, depict, psyche, and so on.
In “double-c” words like accident, succinct, and occident, the first c is not followed by e/i/y, and is therefore pronounced like “k.” The second c is followed by an e/i/y, so it softens into an “s” sound. Hence ak-sident, suk-sinkt, ok-sident.
There are very few exceptions to this rule, like the word victuals, which is pronounced “vittels” (hence we don’t hear the c at all). But that’s a story for another day.
I set Youglish to show all types of pronunciations (US/UK/AUS).
There are 1114 and I watched the first 25 and there were 16 sussers and nine suckers.
Five out of six male suckers were wearing suits. Three out of nine male sussers were wearing suits, one of whom was Obama. I started seeing people in suits and thinking “He looks like a sucker to me.”
It would be really interesting for someone with more time to further explore the correlation.