Say Uncle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

"Say 'uncle'!" is a North American expression demanding that the opponent in a contest submits. The response "Uncle!" is equivalent to "I give up" and indicates submission. There are two theories as to the origin of the term; one relates to the Roman Empire when a bullied child would be forced to say "Patrue, mi Patruissimo," or, "Uncle, my best Uncle," in order to surrender; alternatively the expression may have originated in a 19th-century English joke about a bullied parrot. This use of this term is also very common in Arabian Peninsula countries "gol aami" "say uncle" "قول عمي".


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. 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.[1]


Although it is often regarded as an Americanism, there are at least two differing theories as to the true origin of the phrase: ancient Rome and 19th-century in England.

The Roman Empire theory says, Roman children, when beset by a bully, would be forced to say the Latin phrase, "Patrue, mi Patruissimo," or, "Uncle, my best Uncle," in order to surrender and be freed. [2]

There are various opinions as to the reason that Roman bullies forced their victims to "cry 'Uncle!'". It may be that it was simply a way of making the victim call out for help from a grownup, thus proving his or her weakness. Alternatively, it may have started as a way of forcing the victim to grant the victor a title of respect – as in "Call me Uncle!" — for in Roman times, one's father's brother was accorded nearly the same power and status as one's father. The chosen form of the Latin word for "uncle" ("patrue") tends to support this theory, in that it specifically denotes the paternal uncle – as opposed to the brother of one's mother ("avunculus"), who occupied a somewhat lower rung in patrilineal Roman society.[2]

The 19th-century England theory says it comes from an English joke about a bullied parrot being coaxed to address his owner's uncle.[3][4][5]


  1. ^ Say (or cry) uncle, World Wide Words
  2. ^ a b Say Uncle, The Word Detective
  3. ^ Say (or cry) uncle, World Wide Words
  4. ^ Safire, William (2011-11-16). "Uncle cries "Uncle"". Language Maven Strikes Again. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 030780058X. 
  5. ^ Wilton, Dave (2007-03-11). "say uncle". Wordorigins.