Wednesday WOLF - Cry Uncle

I'm such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of another acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

A recent tweet caught my eye in which the tweeter was wondering where the phrase "cry uncle" comes from. In case you don't know, to cry uncle means to admit to the physical superiority of someone attacking you, usually in a bullying situation.

While I can't back it up with any serious proof, there are two really interesting theories I wanted to share with you. Crying uncle didn't appear in written English until 1918, and one theory posits that perhaps the use of the term arises from the Gaelic anacol, meaning "protection" or "safety." There would've been plenty of Irish immigrant children to bully during that time period, and their native cry for help could've been misinterpreted by their English speaking aggressors.

I like that one, but there's a Roman version too. In Ancient Rome, the paternal uncle held nearly as much power over a child as the father. Courtyard games included a physical wrangling in which the loser had to cry, "Patrue, mi Patruissimo!" (Uncle! My favorite Uncle!) in order to be freed. In doing so, they were naming their attacker as a person who had real power over them, and that sign of respect allowed their freedom.

Hmmm... both interesting. But I don't have a paternal uncle, so I guess I'll just have to keep taking those self-defense classes.