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From: Daumenlutschen - Wikipedia

Daumenlutschen ist eine Angewohnheit von Menschen und anderen Primaten, den Daumen in den Mund zu stecken und daran zu saugen oder zu lutschen.

What is the difference between saugen and lutschen? What are the equivalent words in English?


Reference

As per above links, both have a common meaning as noun (suck) and as verb (to suck something).

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saugen

Engl: to suckle, to suck

You need a tube that is connected at one end to a chamber with a pressure that is lower than on the other end of the tube. Then this lower pressure will cause fluids (liquids and gasses) to move into the chamber where the lower pressure is.

This is the principle of a »Staubsauger« (vacuum cleaner) and of a »Saugpumpe« (lift pump). And it is the same principle that you use when you drink soda through a straw, where your mouth is the chamber with low pressure. And is also is the principle that newborn mammals use when they drink milk from their mother's udder; in which case the nipple will be the drinking tube.

Also, when you form a ring with your lips, with a very small opening, and when you then breath in, so that you hear that typical noise, you say

Luft einsaugen = to "suck" in air.


lutschen

Engl: to suck

This is somethings machines can't do, because you need a tongue to do so. »Lutschen« means, that you have something in your mouth and move it between tongue and the roof of your mouth to make it melt, deliquesce or dissolve. You again and again swallow the molten or dissolved parts and keep moving the hard thing in your mouth until it completely has gone.

Typically you have hard candy, chocolate or similar sweets in your mouth when you do what is called »lutschen« in German. You don't need low pressure for »lutschen«, but you need to have a mouth and a tongue.


lecken

Engl: to lick

This is lutschen, but outside of the mouth. You have something that can melt or dissolve but that's too big to completely put it in your mouth. Think of ice cream or a big lolly.


So, »lutschen« is much more like »lecken« than »saugen«.

  • Saugen is always about producing low pressure.
  • Lutschen and lecken are both about using your tongue.

And all three verbs also exist with a sexual connotation.

  • »Lecken« is mainly cunnilingus, but also all other activities where you move your tongue over somebodies skin.
  • »Lutschen« is sometimes used to describe fellatio, but the verb »blasen« (to blow in it's meaning »to make bigger«) is more commonly used.
  • »Saugen« is only used to describe fellatio when you really create low pressure in your mouth, otherwise its »blasen« or »lutschen«. But of corse you also can saugen on other parts of someones body (finger, nipples, toes, ...), but if you use this word, it's always meant to create low pressure in your mouth.
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  • Ich denke nicht, dass lecken wie lutschen nur außerhalb des Mundes ist. Das sind imho zwei verschiedene Vorgänge. Auch hat Lutschen sehr viel mit Unterdruck und Saugen zu tun. Hat man das nicht, dann ist das eher "etwas im Mund zergehen lassen".
    – mtwde
    Jun 12 at 17:14
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saugen is used if there's an undertow (der Sog)
lutschen means to put something in your mouth for a prolonged time and using your tongue

Examples:

Einen Bonbon lutschen
Lutsch meinen Schwanz (col. vulg. suck my dick)
Das lutscht! (that sucks!; likely to be literally translated from the English expression)

Den Boden saugen (to vacuum)
Am Strohhalm saugen
An der Brust saugen (cmp. Säugetier/mammal)
eine Datei saugen (to download a file, col.)
Blut saugen

Those examples are distinct uses of saugen/lutschen respectively. It's not possible to exchange the verbs.

Thus, am Daumen saugen refers to sucking on a thumb while creating underpressure. Am Daumen lutschen is a more playful activity, where underpressure is not a necessity. In this particular case, the line is thin and blurry, so it's not super clear, where lutschen stops and saugen begins vice/versa. For this, refer to the examples above.

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    "Das lutscht" must be newer. I have only ever heard "das saugt", and only as a joking direct translation of "that sucks".
    – HalvarF
    Jun 9 at 5:11
  • I remember having enoountered "Schnauze, Lutscher!" back in the 80s where Lutscher is probably meant as an equivalent of English sucker so the translation is roughly "Shut up, sucker!"
    – RHa
    Jun 9 at 6:18
  • @HalvarF in the 1990s, the German version of Beavis and Butthead used "das saugt" as the overly literal translation of "that sucks" - I guess that's where that particular joke started. Jun 9 at 6:33
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    @RHa: that comes under the heading of "English for runaways" :-D Jun 11 at 22:06

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