"say uncle" antedated (?) to 1887

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Jan 8 07:44:10 UTC 2012

On 1/7/2012 11:58 AM, Stephen Goranson wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Stephen Goranson<goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject:      "say uncle" antedated (?) to 1887
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> One of the proposals for the origin of "say uncle" (OED: "to acknowledge de=
> feat, to cry for mercy")
> is a 1890 joke about a parrot urged to say that.
> If the following is interpreted in the idiomatic sense, then the 1890-attes=
> ted joke would be antedated:
> ....
> Dr. Martin: "Give one of the symptoms of shock." Senior: "A cold, flabby sw=
> eat."
> R. F. Drake wonders why the little fellow doesn't learn to say "uncle."....
> The Michigan Argonaut, Oct. 29, 1887, vol. 6, no. 4,  p. 34 col. 3.


I see that this passage is in a student periodical, in a section devoted
to little items of current news among dental students. R. E. Drake was
one of these students. I don't know who/what the "little fellow" was:
probably this is some kind of inside joke. I don't think one can know
the referent from this short item. I don't find clear mention of a child
or pet associated with R. E. Drake. Apparently he belonged to a
fraternity and played brass instruments. I suppose he was Rollin Edwards
Drake (b. 1868).

The preceding item with Dr. Martin appears presumably unrelated. I
suppose this is just for humor: some senior student said "flabby"
instead of "clammy", I suppose, ha ha.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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