Say Uncle

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"Say 'uncle'!" is a North American expression demanding that the opponent in a contest submit. The response "Uncle!" is equivalent to "I give up" 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.[1] This exclamation has also been assumed by the BDSM culture as a proverbial example of a safeword.


There are several theories on the phrase's origin.

One theory is that it derives from a phrase uttered by youngsters in the Roman empire who got into trouble, patrue mi patruissime (“uncle, my best of uncles”).[1]

It may also be based on a joke from 19th-century England about a bullied parrot being coaxed to address his owner's uncle.[1][2][3]

"Uncle" may derive from the Irish anacol, meaning mercy or quarter, but there is no strong evidence to support this conjecture.[3]

Foreign-language analog[edit]

There is a common analog in the Arabian Peninsula, the expression "قول عمي" ([q]uwl 'aamiy), which means "say uncle".[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Say (or cry) uncle, World Wide Words
  2. ^ Safire, William (2011-11-16). "Uncle cries "Uncle"". Language Maven Strikes Again. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0307800589.
  3. ^ a b Wilton, Dave (2007-03-11). "say uncle". Wordorigins.

Further reading[edit]