Business communication should be conversational, but there are limits. “Sucks” raises eyebrows in a professional setting.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, John Podesta, former chief of staff in the Clinton administration, criticized the Obama White House for allowing Lawrence Summers’ name to be publicly debated as a possible choice for chair of the Federal Reserve Board. Podesta said the administration let Summers’ name circulate just to test the reaction from academic and financial circles. “Floating trial balloons generally sucks as a strategy … You’ve got to make your decision and go with it,” Podesta was quoted as saying.
Podesta probably would choose a different word if he were on Meet the Press or on the evening news. He knows that “sucks” is still jarring to the ears of people who remember when it was widely associated with a sexual context. Today, people expect that any well-educated business professional, particularly someone who also is a national political figure, has sufficient vocabulary to express his thoughts with more polish. Podesta could have said that such a strategy is poorly planned, doomed to fail, or unprofessional, or he could have chosen numerous other alternatives.
The word is tossed around frequently in casual conversation today, and anyone under 30 knows it only as a word meaning objectionable or inadequate. But dictionaries consider it slang, in that context, if they acknowledge that usage at all. Exercise judgment before using the word loosely in a business setting or in a conversation with a journalist.