Dupe, Greenhorn, Sucker, and Easy Mark

By Maeve Maddox

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A few posts ago, I wrote about the multitude of ways English provides for calling someone “stupid.” Now I’ll address some negative terms that target another human failing.

Although cynics may equate them, innocence and trust are not the same as stupidity. Here are four words used to designate people who are seen as fair game for exploitation because of their willingness to trust, either to people or to chance.

dupe
A dupe is a person who allows himself to be deceived or deluded; one who is misled by false representations or notions; a victim of deception. A French borrowing, its earliest citation in English is 1681. In French, it was in use as early as 1426.

In this way of thinking, a woman who loved with abandon must be a fool or a dupe.

Dupe can also be used as a verb meaning, “to deceive, delude.”

Fake victims of disasters attempt to use social media to dupe generous people.

greenhorn
A greenhorn is an inexperienced or naive person. The term probably derives from the new (green) horns produced by a young animal. It developed figuratively to designate a young, inexperienced person. As used now, youth is not necessarily being referenced. A person of any age can be a greenhorn.

The general with a penchant for intellectual treatises is a political greenhorn.

In literature, the term has commonly been applied to new immigrants.

As far as they’re concerned, I could just as well be a greenhorn right off the boat.

sucker
This word has multiple meanings. As a term of opprobrium, it means a person who is easily cheated or deceived, a “greenhorn, or a simpleton.”

Anyone who thinks Amazon is a positive force to the cause of writing is a sucker.

Two other meanings have evolved.

To “be a sucker for” something is “to be irresistibly attracted to something.”

I’ll admit that I find it funny, but then again, I’m a sucker for British humor.

A third use of sucker is as a generic term for “person” or “thing.”

When she sued him for divorce, the poor sucker never saw it coming.

The good news is that this sucker is fast even though it’s only powered by USB.

easy mark
Mark has and has had many meanings, but the one that forms the basis of this term means “a target or other object set up to be aimed at with a missile or projectile.”

An easy mark is a person who is easy to take advantage of, either because of being credulous and quick to be convinced, or because of going unprotected into a risky situation.

In the neighborhood, she is regarded as a saintly figure but also as an easy mark.

Journeying out with the money in her handbag, she is soon spotted as an easy mark.

An easy mark can also be something inanimate, such as a business that can be robbed.

The place may have looked like an easy mark, a high-cash business with an owner in his 70s, known as a gentle, soft-spoken man.

My exploration of terms used as put-downs continues.

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2 Responses to “Dupe, Greenhorn, Sucker, and Easy Mark”

  • Daisy Hartwell

    Would “wet behind the ears” and “babe in the woods” fit with the rest of these? Or are they used in the sense of “innocent” and “inexperienced” rather than “gullible”? I feel like they can be synonymous with the ones you’ve listed here, depending on the context, but I’m not sure.

  • Maeve

    Daisy Hartwell,
    Yes, I’d agree that those idioms are not out of place in this category. As you say, “depending on the context.”

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