Sunday, 3 March 2013


Uncle Herb from The Simpsons


Adjective. Mid-19th century.
[from Latin avunculus maternal uncle, dim. of avus grandfather]

Of, pertaining to, or resembling an uncle.

When I read this, I was a little bit perplexed as to what avuncular is supposed to entail. On the one hand, popular culture gives us the evil uncles, avaricious and scheming, usually intent on stealing the family inheritance. On the other hand, there are the loving, cool uncles, who steal nothing more than their nephew's nose and the reader's heart.

With these antipodean stereotypes, my conclusion is that avuncular will mean something different to everyone depending on one's own experience of uncles. I was never particularly close to any of my uncles, but I did become an uncle at 10 years old, and so my nephews and nieces (of which I have many) formed a substantial part of my childhood and teenage years. I don't think I'm being too presumptuous when I say I'm closer to the second stereotype than the first (I don't have a particular propensity for avarice and I didn't ever try to cheat any of my nephews out of a family inheritance by murdering my own sibling). 

My avuncular memories include writing and staging open air theatrical productions with my nieces and nephews (Bodlio & Nindiette got rave reviews from all attendees), forming the band Pink Blossom (we had a kind of grungy vibe), taking them into Oxford for milkshakes and ice cream, and otherwise fighting, wrestling, tickling and loving them as every good uncle should. These are the things I think of when I hear the word avuncular, and I like to think it's what they would think of too.

Do you have any particularly poignant avuncular memories? Please feel free to share them in the comments section.


  1. My uncles are okay, I guess. They always tease me though :/ It's like having a lot of older brothers who annoy you, like, all the time, but still stick up for you when it's needed.

    I didn't even know there was an Uncle Herb on the Simpsons! When did he show up?!

  2. He's Homer's long-lost millionaire half-brother, voiced by Danny de Vito. Definitely of the 'cool uncle' ilk : o )

  3. When I think of one of my Uncles, I think of him giving me and my sister a wrapped up gift to each of us. They were similar size and shape, but one was a Kindle and the other was a kid's Spanish Phrase book. My sister got the Kindle. I got the kid's Spanish Phrase book.
    Personally, I think that this describes an 'evil' uncle. This pretty much sums up what I think of when I hear the word avuncular. Wish I had an uncle that was like you! :P

    1. OK ... this really made me laugh ... this "anonymous" comment has been left by my niece who is clearly still harbouring some resentment over the disparity of gifts I once got for her and her sister. Hmm. An uncle that buys his nieces language learning books and Kindles. Hardly the definition of 'the evil uncle', is it? At least I now have the story for when I get to the letter 'I' and am writing about the word 'ingrate'! : o D

  4. I also learned this one from Curb Your Enthusiasm. A girl tells Larry he reminds her of her college professor and he asks "Was he an avuncular bald Jew?" in reply.