General English


  • adjective sick. One of many rhyming-slang expressions using ‘uncle’ and a convenient rhyming Christian name.
  • noun a pawnbroker. A use of the word which arose in the 18th century, referring (probably ironically) to the moneylender’s avuncular assistance. The term was still heard in London in the 1950s and may survive. From the 1980s it was heard in the British TV soap opera EastEnders.
  • noun a cry of concession. To ‘say uncle’ or ‘cry uncle’ is to surrender or admit defeat, in playground games for instance. The reason for this choice of word is obscure.
  • noun the law-enforcement establishment when seen as benevolent, protective or rewarding by crooks

Origin & History of “uncle”

Uncle comes via Anglo-Norman uncle and late Latin aunculus from Latin avunculus ‘mother’s brother, maternal uncle’ (source also of English avuncular (19th c.)). this was a diminutive noun derived from the prehistoric base *aw- ‘grandparent’, and it has relatives in Latin avus ‘grandfather’, Welsh ewythr ‘uncle’, polish wuj ‘uncle’, Armenian hav ‘uncle’, etc.