Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Say "Uncle"

A gentleman was boasting that his parrot would repeat anything he told him. For example, he told him several times, before some friends, to say “Uncle,” but the parrot would not repeat it. In anger he seized the bird, and half-twisting his neck, said: “Say ‘uncle,’ you beggar!” and threw him into the fowl pen, in which he had ten prize fowls. Shortly afterward, thinking he had killed the parrot, he went to the pen. To his surprise he found nine of the fowls dead on the floor with their necks wrung, and the parrot standing on the tenth twisting his neck and screaming: “Say ‘uncle,’ you beggar! say uncle.”

Iowa Citizen of 9 October 1891

This may bey the earliest recorded appearance of the phrase, “say uncle.” But that does not mean it is the origin of the phrase. To me the story sounds like a joke explanation of an idiom already in circulation, and some etymologists think the phrase comes from the Irish “anacol,” which can mean “mercy.” Still, it's a great story.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Neither version seems terribly plausible to me, but the link did manage to thoroughly sell me on the idea of "okay" deriving from "och aye". It makes too much sense.