Wednesday Word: Avuncular
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
avun·cu·lar | \ ə-ˈvəŋ-kyə-lər \
Definition of avuncular 1: suggestive of an uncle especially in kindliness or geniality 2: of or relating to an uncle
While watching a documentary on the shower scene from the 1960 film "Psycho", one of the directors commented that the movie's director, Alfred Hitchcock, was "avuncular". I had heard the word before, but not often, and context clues left me wondering about its meaning and, subsequently, origin.
Basically, the meaning is that of a fun and loving uncle. Isn't it interesting that there is a word commonly in use today that means that someone is like a fun and loving uncle? Are uncles so wonderful that they get their own word positively dripping with adoration? And, because I am who I am, I immediately wondered, "What about fun and loving aunts?!"
The word "avuncular" derives from the Latin noun avunculus, which translates as "maternal uncle," but since at least the 1830s English speakers have used "avuncular" to refer to uncles from either side of the family or even to individuals who are simply uncle-like in character or behavior.
And again I say: What about the aunts?
Which seems like a moot point, since I am an only child and will never be an aunt. However, I am full of righteous indignation for all of you aunties out there!
Turns out there could be a word, if we start to use it. You see, it won't enter the lexicon unless it is in frequent use, and I doubt this one will catch on. The Oxford English Dictionary lists “materteral” as meaning “characteristic of an aunt.” That's just plain cumbersome to say. Further, the OED lists only a single published reference to the word, from 1823, and calls it “humorously pedantic.” To which I take extreme exception, of course. Being pedantic is serious business.
So, I propose a new word! A word very close to "aunt", but with that crazy, fun-loving, devil-may-care attitude that aunts have. It's your turn, aunts of the world! It's time to get drunk at family gatherings, laugh too loudly at inappropriate times, talk about how "grown" your nephew's best friend has become, threaten anyone who bullies your nieces or nephews, and carry a firearm in your humongous handbag (just in case). Dear readers, I give you: FUNT.
You are welcome.