Monday, February 10, 2014

Relataively Speaking

Some useful words that I’ve never known about just showed up in a Facebook post.  They’re obsolete and archaic terms for family members that define their relationships much more precisely than modern English does.  You no longer have to stop and figure out how you’re related to Cousin Elmer or Aunt Elmira.  Think how useful these descriptions can be when you’re seating family members for Thanksgiving dinner or deciding whom to leave out of your will.  

Patruel is a child of a paternal uncle or aunt, or a child of your own brother. Instead the loosey-goosey terms “cousin” and “niece” or “nephew,” you can say “patruel” and be much more specific. It is from the Latin word patruus, “father’s brother,” and the Oxford English Dictionary has a citation of its use in 1603. 

You can also stipulate which kind of uncle or aunt you mean. Avuncle is a maternal uncle, the brother of your mother.  We have the word avuncular in modern English, which means “like an uncle (of any kind),” but its origin is the Latin avunculus, literally “little grandfather.” Avunculus, of course, is the root of uncle, which came to English through the French oncle.

If you don’t like avuncle, eam is an Old English word that means the same— maternal uncle.  It stemmed from Old High German oheim via the Dutch oom.

A maternal aunt can be referred to as the Old English modrige, from Pro-Germanic mōdrijō.

Old English also had words for paternal uncle (fædera) and aunt (fadu), which are derived from Proto-Germanic fadurjô via Old High Gereman fataro.

 The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is nobody’s uncle and nobody’s aunt.  He’d like to think he was also nobody’s fool—but that’s hard to prove.  


     There once was a very sick uncle,
     With a badly infected carbuncle.
                The doc, at his appointment,
                Said, “Here’s two tubes of ointment—
     If the goo doesn’t cure you, the gunk’ll.

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