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Q&A: Origins of 'cry uncle'

Origins of 'cry uncle'

Why is the wrestling term "cry uncle," and not aunt or anything else?

There is no definitive history on the origin of the phrase, though there is plenty of speculation. The term, which is universally recognized as words that concede defeat (i.e., "I give up"), was traced back to the late 19th century, according to the website worldwidewords.org, and was used as a focal point in a joke.

As the story goes on the website: "A gentleman was boasting that his parrot would repeat anything he told him. For example, he told him several times, before some friends, to say 'Uncle,' but the parrot would not repeat it. In anger he seized the bird, and half-twisting his neck, said: 'Say "uncle," you beggar!' and threw him into the fowl pen, in which he had 10 prize fowls. Shortly afterward, thinking he had killed the parrot, he went to the pen. To his surprise he found nine of the fowls dead on the floor with their necks wrung, and the parrot standing on the 10th, twisting his neck and screaming: 'Say "uncle," you beggar! Say "uncle." '

Later versions started the story by saying "A man whose niece had coaxed him into buying a parrot succeeded in getting a bird that was warranted a good talker."

Another theory was that uncle was the Americanized version of the Irish word anacol, which means protection or safety.

Then there's the Roman Empire version, in which children confronted by bullies would be forced to say Patrue, mi Patruissimo, or "uncle, my best uncle," in order to be freed.

About Megyn Kelly's family life

Who is Fox News' Megyn Kelly married to, and what is his profession?

Kelly married Douglas Brunt on March 1, 2008. Brunt is president and CEO of Authentium, an Internet security firm. They had a son in 2009 and are expecting their second child in April.

Kelly, 30, previously was married to anesthesiologist Daniel Kendall. They divorced in 2006.

Update

In the Feb. 4 Ask the Times column, we introduced you to the four members of the "Never missed a Super Bowl" club. But one of the members took ill and didn't make it to the game, and last week he died.

Robert Cook, 79, of Brown Deer, Wis., watched from his hospital room on Feb. 6, when his Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25. He died Feb. 10 from a blood infection.

Correction

An item in the Feb. 14 Ask the Times column incorrectly said Pfc. Bradley Manning is awaiting trial on multiple charges of violating the U.S. Criminal Code. Manning, who is accused of giving classified information to WikiLeaks, has been charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Q&A: Origins of 'cry uncle' 02/20/11 [Last modified: Sunday, February 20, 2011 3:30am]
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