Suss It Out

Can someone please tell me the provenance of the phrase “suss it out,” and, more specifically, of the word “suss.” I used this word last week at Yankee and my American colleagues looked at me like I was crazy. Thank you.


Alan's picture
Alan on June 16, 2003 - 14:12 Permalink

I believe it comes from suspect, suspicion, etc. and may be one of those words, like “OK”, that came out of pre-WWI US universities and the fad then of making short forms of words that only made sense if you were in the know.

Rob MacD's picture
Rob MacD on June 16, 2003 - 15:42 Permalink

This is what an Atomica click on the word brings up: “suss (s&#365s)
tr.v. Slang., sussed, suss

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on June 16, 2003 - 18:19 Permalink

I think that “suss” is rarely used in the States, but is certainly used here in Canada and also in Britain. I first heard the word in 1978 when I lived there as a kid and it had connotations of both “investigate” and, more importanly “busted”.

I’m going to suss out that party.”


We were had just stolen the bottle of liquor when he sussed us.”

Here in Canada, it seems just to mean “figure out” i think we use the term “busted” these days to indicate being caught at something. Where we might simply say “BUSTED!” to someone, in the UK, they might say “SUSSED!”

Melda's picture
Melda on June 16, 2003 - 19:56 Permalink

I just recently returned from Australia, where many people use the term ‘suss’, as in to ‘sort out’, or ‘check out’.

It was most commonly used as Chris described — ‘to suss out that party’, or if someone had heard that a certain band was going to be playing somewhere, someone might want to ‘suss that out’, as in get more details.

dank's picture
dank on April 6, 2004 - 21:52 Permalink

This is from the OED.

Mike's picture
Mike on May 27, 2005 - 14:07 Permalink

I heard the word ‘suss’ about 20 years ago. I live in South Africa and the person that used it never travelled out of South Africa and we always wondered where he got it from. I thought he made it up, but after sussing out this website, I guess I was wrong all these years.

john huddleston's picture
john huddleston on October 30, 2005 - 23:32 Permalink

Re: Mike’s of May 27, 2005, I also learned “sussed” in South Africa, about 35 years ago. It was at a boarding school which drew students and masters from many countries, and I assumed it has a British origin.

As well as the “suspicion” origin, have also heard of “assess” as a source, the idea being “assess” led to “sess out” to “suss out”

John Huddleston
Berkeley California

Irene's picture
Irene on April 19, 2007 - 05:17 Permalink

Two angles:

suss out” — much the same as everyone has said above. To sort out or ascertain. “We can meet tonight and suss it out”

On the other hand, “suss” on its own seems to derive directly from suspect or suspicious.
If I were to say something was “suss” I would mean it was dodgy. “That car parked across the road looks pretty suss”

- this is how it is used in New Zealand, anyway.

Lisa's picture
Lisa on October 9, 2007 - 00:05 Permalink

I believe the origins are more porcine: pigs fall into the genus sus, known for their ability to forage and sniff out truffles and such. To sus, therefore, would be to sniff out.

Thinkbolt's picture
Thinkbolt on May 30, 2009 - 06:34 Permalink

The first time I ever read this term was in a science fiction story, I forget which. It was an old one, like from the 50s or 30s, so I always assumed that’s where it came from.

late to the party (like by 6 y's picture
late to the par... on November 5, 2009 - 00:23 Permalink

hmmmm…am i the only american that still includes this word is my vernacular? my first thought is that your american colleagues had one too many drinks the night before (explaining their general confusion…)

Connrtet's picture
Connrtet on November 10, 2009 - 18:07 Permalink

From the Humble Pie song “Say No More”  — “Well, it took me awhile to suss it out”. As in, it took me awhile to figure it out.

ididntknowwhoiwastalkingtoin N's picture
ididntknowwhoiw... on December 31, 2009 - 07:03 Permalink

Once, in 1988 when I was in a small bar in Newport Beach (Ca) a member of the four-pouple at the table next to me said “I remember that guy…….I used to date him!” one of her table mate’s said “we were talking about a girl” to which she said “oh yeah…I used to date her too!!”
I totally “sussed” it out….and then verbalized those exact words ……and later got a call from a friend who wanted to hear the definition of the word — because he likes to use unused words randomly……(did I say that correctly?)
any thoughts about the way slang gets scattered??

Chud's picture
Chud on September 9, 2010 - 08:40 Permalink

The word means to “check out,” “investigate,” or to “find the origin of a problem.” It has its roots in British Naval and Royal Marine traditions, and as such is equally at home in the US Navy and Marine Corps, as well as Australian and South African Naval Forces.

Rob's picture
Rob on January 16, 2011 - 18:26 Permalink

Yes — the word has travelled the world via British roots but, like many English words, I believe actually has its origin in another language that influenced Britain. In this case, I believe the roots are French.

Like many of these types of words, it was probably used and changed in pronounciation, before ended up with a different spelling. It could be any source, but perhaps springing from a use of “s’ouvrir” originally, which can mean to open or look into.

Rob's picture
Rob on January 16, 2011 - 18:36 Permalink

BTW — I suspect “S’ouvrir” because in my travels I’ve heard the word pronounced not just “suss” but also with the “u” pronounced as “ooo” (as in Sue). I can visualise Naval types picking it up from Fench sailors’ use of “s’ouvres tu” or “souvrisse”. An English slang adaptation of “souvs” would quickly drop the uncomfortable “v”.

SS's picture
SS on August 31, 2011 - 22:30 Permalink

I’ve used suss my whole life. I use it at work as well. I never ever considered that it might confuse anyone. I think more people than you think in the U.S.A. know it.

King Lum's picture
King Lum on September 10, 2012 - 22:23 Permalink

Bob Marley and the Wailers – Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock):

Take my soul (oh-oh-oh-oh-oh)
and suss — and suss me out (suss me out). Oh-ooh!
Check my life (oh-oh-oh-oh-oh),
if I am in doubt (I’m in doubt); I’m tellin’:
3 o’clock roadblock — roadblock — roadblock,
And “Hey, Mr. Cop! Ain’t got no — (hey) hey! (hey, Mr Cop) -
(What ya sayin’ down there?) — (hey) hey! (hey, Mr Cop) -
Ain’t got no birth certificate on me now.”

Pedro Mariposa's picture
Pedro Mariposa on December 18, 2012 - 15:39 Permalink

Comes from the latin Sus, the genus for swine. Try sus scrofa domestica (domestic pig) to get a sense of how the term might have derived—imagine a pig digging for roots or truffles, sniffing around until the delicacy is found, hence “sussing” or “sussing out” the truffle or rotting turnip, whatever. Rooting around like a pig? Sussing out fits the bill.