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I was wondering what would you call a highly low-quality thing like a 'film', a 'car' or even a 'job' in informal English?

I know the two nouns rubbish and lemon as well as the verb suck, but first of all, I need to know which one is American and which one is more British? Then I need to know their semantic nuances.

Cambridge Dictionary says that:

  1. "Rubbish" is something which you think is very low quality or not true.

Collins Dictionary says that:

  1. If you think that something is a failure, or not as good or as useful as it should be, you can say that it is a lemon.

Again Cambridge says:

  1. If someone or something sucks, that person or thing is bad or unpleasant.

1-a- The film was a real rubbish.
1-b- The film was a real lemon.
1-c- The film really sucked.

2-a- This car is a rubbish.
2-b- This car is a lemon.
2-c- This car sucks.

3-a- Man, this job is a rubbish.
3-b- Man, this job is a lemon.
3-c- Man, this job sucks!

  • 2
    Note that sucks can be considered vulgar. – whiskeychief Aug 19 at 10:44
  • Well @whiskeychief many words may have secondary meanings, but I wonder doesn't it depend on the listener's mindset and character how to interpret the words? – A-friend Aug 20 at 3:36
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    The verb "suck" is sometimes used in the very vulgar and crude expression or command "suck my d**k" – Mari-Lou A Aug 24 at 15:21
  • I know that @Mari-Lou A, but please let me know if the majority of people, would look at the term with its pejorative connotation or just some youth or less educated people with higher sexual attitudes would look at it in that way? – A-friend Aug 24 at 16:32
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    I can't say for certain, I don't live in the US or in the UK, but I'd imagine that every American is aware of that expression, consequently, some will find the term suck, to be vulgar. – Mari-Lou A Aug 24 at 22:19
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  1. (a) The film was a real rubbish. NO
  2. (a) This car is a rubbish. NO
  3. (b) This car is a lemon YES

The word rubbish is an uncountable noun, you cannot count "rubbish" individually. The correct way to state the OP's sample sentences would be

  1. This car is rubbish
  2. That film was rubbish
  3. That film was really rubbish
  4. Man, this job is rubbish.

However, in sentence 3. rubbish is an adjective, it is slang for very bad, worthless, and inferiore quality.

rubbish

adjective uk informal
completely without skill at a particular activity:
I'm rubbish at arithmetic.
You're a rubbish dancer.

You can substitute the British English term "rubbish" with "crap", "garbage" or "trash", the latter two being more common in the USA.

If something sucks, it is very bad. Until quite recently I would have said that it was exclusively an American English expression, but I hear British youngsters use this term also.

  1. This car sucks
  2. That film sucked
  3. That film really sucked
  4. Man, this job sucks.

lemon

I'd use lemon for a piece of machinery, property or equipment that did not live up to expectations.

  • You can avoid buying a lemon (one which breaks down all the time and is a bad deal).
  • A professional inspector will be able to tell you if you are getting a lemon, or if the boat is in buying condition.
  • Used vehicles are fully certified, so you can buy with confidence, knowing that you haven't purchased a lemon of a scooter.
  • What can we do to get out from under a lemon of a house? (MetaFilter)
  • If you include those 40~ in those British youngsters. I have a feeling it was very popular in films in the 80's/90's. – Smock Aug 19 at 10:54
  • So @Maria-Lou A, AFAIC "lemon" can be used as a noun (countable; despite "rubbish") or as an adjective. If I'm not mistaken, if it is used in its adjectival role, the structure "lemon of a something" will be utilized. Like: "That's a lemon of a car" which can be expressed in: "That car is a lemon. Do you confirm my takeaway? – A-friend Aug 19 at 17:49
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    @A-friend Yes that's exactly right. – Mari-Lou A Aug 19 at 18:04
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In this context, "rubbish" is strictly British. Along with "lorry", "flat", and "petrol", it's one of the common words that show up on lists of differences between the two countries, and how to immediately tell someone is likely to be from the UK (aside from the accent, of course).

Americans do say "rubbish", but not normally as a metaphor for something of low quality. Instead we say "garbage" or "trash", e.g.

That movie was garbage.

"Suck" is more American. It tends to be associated with a certain kind of "slacker youth" archetype (as well as those adults -- myself not excluded -- who haven't quite matured).

"Lemon" is not something you hear very often. It is a colloquialism to refer to an expensive purchase -- automobiles, computers, etc. -- that is of significantly lower quality than it should be. It's the kind of term you'd see in articles talking about how to avoid purchasing a "lemon", but not something you'd hear in conversation.

Instead, most people would use "rubbish/garbage" to refer to describe the purchase -- or, quite commonly, stronger language.

This car really is a piece of crap. I can't believe I paid good money for it.

  • 1
    Americans can also replace rubbish with junk (especially for hardware). Either is a mass noun, though lemon is a count noun. – Anton Sherwood Aug 20 at 0:34
  • Thank you for the informative and helpful answer @Andrew. I would be grateful if you could let me know which one of the words "junk", "crap", "garbage" and "trash" (which are all nouns,) can play the role of an adjective in a sentence? (I think they all are nouns and can be a noun adjunct too. So they can act as adjectives too.) Do you agree? – A-friend Aug 20 at 4:09
  • @A-friend You'll have to consult a real linguist on that one. I think it depends on how the sentence is structured, for example "junk food" is definitely an adjective, but "that food is junk" is just comparing two nouns. – Andrew Aug 20 at 4:24

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