I like noting new words as I come across them. “Avuncular” is one of those words that I thought I knew what it meant, and I was happy reading it, but when I thought about it, I realised actually I didn’t know precisely what it meant! The way to determine if you know what a word means is to try and describe what it means to someone else. If you struggle, you probably don’t quite know.
Google tells me that the word has two definitions:
kind and friendly towards a younger or less experienced person.“he was avuncular, reassuring, and trustworthy”
relating to the relationship between men and the children of their siblings
The word therefore must have the same root as the word “uncle”. It appears to come from the Latin “avunculus”, meaning “mother’s brother”. And this Latin word is the origin of both current English words, avuncular and uncle.
It’s interesting that the word has developed with the implications that uncles are nice, kind generous people!
I also learnt that North America has an idiom: “say uncle!”, which is a demand for submission during a fight. Apparently, this developed from the Latin word for father’s brother (rather than mother’s), “patrue”, indicating that one should give respect. The brother of one’s father was accorded equal status with one’s father in Roman society, whereas the maternal uncle was of lower status.
I’ve never come across a language different in respect of paternal/maternal relations quite like this before. Today, one couldn’t tell which side of the family an uncle came from, merely from the name.
I should keep a list of words I don’t understand, and then look them up and make notes. Stay tuned for more!