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Suck your teeth

Posted by R. Berg on February 27, 2008 at 17:00:

In Reply to: Suck your teeth posted by Smokey Stovere on February 27, 2008 at 14:58:

: : Suck your teeth, click your tongue, cluck, tut, tsk, tchk -- do these all mean the same thing? That is, the percussive sound you make when you place your tongue forward and quickly suction back, in criticism of something? I'm especially interested in hearing about the first phrase, as I'd never heard it until some TV-talk-show women used it like it was a common phrase.

: Do they signify the same actions in the mouth? I imagine they do, mostly. Are they used with the same sifnification? I imagine they do, for the most part. But there are exceptions. You can do a mouth click in many different positions, that is, dentally, with the tongue far forward up against the teeth (suck your teeth); palatally, with the tip of the tongue pressed against the palate, or with the middle of the tongue (that is, the area behind the tip) pressed against the palate; or laterally, with the air taken in across the molars or behind them, at the side of the mouth. Besides the disapproving tsk-tsk or tut-tut you can thus produce the cluck that farmers sometimes use to tell their horses to giddy-up, the cluck-cluck that boys sometimes use in place of hubba-hubba (at leasat in my generation in the U.S.), and, with the lips in the right position, a sneering sucking noise with which to mock individuals thought to be suck-ups. One can also, of course, suddenly draw in air by opening pursed lips, which can be used to signify a friendly kiss or blown kiss, or a mock rendering of "kissy-kissy," to ridicule someone who is a kiss-up.

: Although some of these sounds are called clicks, I'm not sure percussive would be an appropriate modifier. The sound is not produced by striking.

: I'm not sure that sucking one's teeth always means the same thing. Some people may suck their teeth as a hygienic measure, like squishing, or just as an idle activity. LIke you, I've rarely heard the phrase; I'd be glad not to hear it again.
: SS

This is an ethnic phrase. U.S. black speakers, at least in some dialects, use "sucking teeth" for the action that's rendered "tsk, tsk" in old books. It occurs once in _The Color Purple_. ~rb