"Say 'uncle'!" is a chiefly North American expression demanding that the opponent in a contest submit. The response "Uncle!" is equivalent to "I give up!" or similar sentiment, and indicates submission.
In the United States and Canada, the idiomatic expression "Say 'uncle'!" may be used as an imperative command to demand submission of one's opponent, such as during an informal wrestling match or tickling. Similarly, the exclamation "Uncle!" is an indication of submission—analogous to "I give up!"—or it may be a cry for mercy, in such a game or match.
There are several theories on the phrase's origin.
Due to heavy Irish immigration in eastern Canada and New England in the 19th century, it is likely an anglicization of the Irish 'anacal', meaning deliverance or quarter.
Another suggested origin is from the English phrase “time out”, a plea to cease hostilities. The abbreviated usage "T.O." was mistaken for the Spanish “tío”, which means "uncle".
- Say (or cry) uncle, World Wide Words
- ""Online Irish Dictionary, Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla (Ó Dónaill, 1977)".
- Safire, William (2011-11-16). "Uncle cries "Uncle"". Language Maven Strikes Again. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0307800589.