#12: To the Editor:

12.1  Dear Stolf: I learned a new word…”Avuncular,” meaning like an uncle, presumably a benevolent one. Is there a similar word pertaining to aunts? …from Hazel in Hilo, Hawaii

12.2  Hey, hey Hazel: There’s an old Spanish proverb, He to whom God gives no sons, the devil gives nephews. Always seemed to have a slightly sinister ring to it, but I tend to hope for the best. At any rate, the answer to your question is yes. The word you want….altho used even less frequently than Avuncular…is Materteral…without an “n”…not Materternal. These derive from the Latin words for your mother’s brother and sister, Avunculus and Matertera respectively. Here are their basic kinship terms (not my chart…I wouldn’t’ve made it so dark)…and you will recognize the origins of the English words paternal, maternal, fraternity, sorority, and filial…

12.3  Dear Stolf: What do the Dutch call what we call a “Dutch Uncle”? …from Cookie in Costa Rica.

12.4  Dear Cookie:  Ah, one of my favorites…I call it the IMBY game…In My Back Yard, the opposite of NIMBY or Not, etc. Inspired by the comedian who quipped: I was in England and asked for an English muffin…they never heard of ’em!  If only he’d asked for a crumpet, that would have sorted him right out. French fries in France are pommes frites…or fried apples…the potato is the “earth-apple” or pomme de terre. And French toast is pain perdu, literally “lost bread,” but meant in the sense of “leftover.” In Canada, Canadian bacon is back bacon. The Danes call a Danish pastry Wienerbrød…or Viennese bread…that’s supposed to be where it originated, and  most European languages follow suit.

12.5  And Americans are not immune. In French, German, Italian, Danish, Polish, and many other European tongues, an American Uncle has various shades of meaning…from unknown benefactor or “rich uncle”…in the sense of a deus ex machina who dies and leaves you an unexpected fortune…to “sugar daddy”…to simply an older man who befriends and mentors those his junior. It is believed derived from the fact that many European families had a member, usually a man, who emigrated to America, and got filthy rich in no time…well, that’s what they told their neighbors, anyway.

12.6   But it’s in the 3rd sense, that of a mentor, that Oncle d’Amérique resembles the English term “Dutch Uncle”…which is someone who advises you with necessary frankness, the opposite of a “real” uncle who would tend to indulge you, avuncularly, if you will. As with so much of language, the origin of Dutch Uncle is unknown. It seems likely the use of “Dutch” dates back to when the English and Dutch were not the best of friends, the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 1600s…and this animosity extended to the rival colonies in the New World. Some of the coinages have become so ingrained that we don’t think of them as pejorative…”Dutch treat” and “Double Dutch” for example. Others still do have a negative conotation, like “Dutch courage” for booze-induced bravado, and being “in dutch” for “in trouble.”

12.7  To answer your question, I can find no equivalent term used in the Netherlands. But there may well be. Readers, help us out? But in researching your question, I experienced a nice touch of serendipity…

12.8  …and that was in finding the phrase “Welsh Uncle”…and the corresponding “Welsh Aunt.” This refers to your parent’s 1st cousin…yes, the dreaded 1st cousin once removed. Earliest citations date back to the 1700s…several British magazine articles from the late 1800s stated the term was very rare, but opined that it would be a useful one if generally adopted. Again, its origins are shrouded in mystery…there’s the temptation to think it means “not a real uncle” in the same way Welsh Rarebit, originally Welsh Rabbit, poked fun at cheese on toast as the best the Welsh could do for meat…altho it should be noted that the Welsh traditionally love baked cheese dishes, so presumably wouldn’t have minded.

12.9  Dear Stolf: I once heard Don Rickles refer to somebody as “Perry Como’s kid my another marriage.” I laughed, like I do at everything Rickles says, but wasn’t quite sure why. Any thoughts?   from Charles Paul Oliver Sharkey, lost at sea….

12.10  Dear, um, C.P.O: Yeah, same here. The thing about Rickles is, his rapid-fire style of insults doesn’t leave you any time to ponder whether he’s actually making any sense. But like you, I love him and just laugh at everything…door knob!!  He probably said that about someone who was very much unlike Perry Como’s genial persona, the contrast making it funny…that’s my educated guess. Next week, mental gymnastics to exercise the old noodle…see yez…

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Copyright © 2011 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

 


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