sucker punch

An unexpected blow that catches a person completely off guard. The term sucker punch dates back to 1947 in the sport of boxing. Boxing great Jack Dempsey wrote, “The right lead (for a right-handed boxer) is called a sucker punch.” 

However, in boxing, a sucker punch thrown outside of the rules is illegal. Such a sucker punch is any sneak attack, a form of cheating.

‘Cold-cock’ means the same thing, allowing no time for preparation or defense on the part of the recipient. It’s usually used where the punch has been delivered in a way that is unfair or unethical, for example, one delivered from behind.

During 2013 and 2014, significant media attention was paid in Australia to two violent killings involving one-hit punches. Noting that ninety-one people had died in Australia in the previous four years from brain trauma as a result of being hit, a media campaign was launched to refer to them as coward punches. This campaign was supported by the New South Wales Government.

The sucker punch has been used in many films, video games and other forms of media. It can be used to show how rotten the antagonist is, the low morals of an anti-hero, betrayal of someone close to the protagonist, and so on. However, it also can be used as a weapon of the protagonist to deal with an unfair situation.

In the Pokémon game series, a move has the English name of Sucker Punch. It is a Dark-type move that allows the user to attack before the other Pokémon has a chance to, provided that the targeted Pokémon is going to attack in that same turn.

The phrase has been used for things other than fighting. P. J. O’Rourke has referred to a combination of grain alcohol and Gatorade as “sucker punch.”

Basically, sucker punch derives from the word ‘sucker.’ One of the meanings of that word is ‘a gullible or easily deceived person.’ It follows, therefore, that a ‘sucker’ would be easy to fool with a surprise punch. 

The use of the term has been dated to 1836. I heard it for the first time about two months ago. Either it hasn’t been used much in the last few years, or I move in the wrong circles!

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