• avuncular •
Pronunciation: ê-vêng-kjê-lêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Uncle-like in being kind and indulgent. 2. Related to uncles in other ways.
Notes: You are usually safe in adverbializing adjectives ending on the suffix -ar and this word is no exception: avuncularly. This suffix also usually attracts the suffix -ity in forming a noun: avuncularity. Wouldn't this word be much easier to remember without the initial av-, just uncular? The Word History will explain why this cannot be.
In Play: To be avuncular, you must be an amiable older man or someone who behaves like such a man: "Duane Pipes's attitude toward his research assistant remained avuncular despite her best efforts." Of course, even direct avuncularity can be tested: "Eugene Oregon was less avuncular toward his niece when she arrayed three tattoos across her shoulders and added junkyard of metal rings to various parts of her head."
Word History: Today's word comes from Latin avunculus "maternal uncle, mother's brother", originally the diminutive of avus "grandfather". As a matter of fact, English uncle comes from the same word after a few centuries of French smoothing. This word is today oncle in French; English just modified the vowel a bit. The Latin word for "daddy", atta, a salutation for older men, was combined with avus "grandfather" to create atavus "ancestor". French added the suffix -isme to the stem of this word to create atavisme "a throwback", an individual who exhibits genetic traits that have not emerged for several generations. Yep, English grabbed that one, too, and just dropped the final E: atavism.