[Ads-l] "Say Uncle" - slight antedating

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 13 13:12:22 EDT 2017

"Say Uncle" was discussed here in 2012. http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2012-January/115472.html

Garson O'Toole pointed to a Wordorigins.org<http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/site/say_uncle/> piece and WorldWideWords.org<http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-say1.htm> piece which both cited a joke published in the Iowa Citizen (October 9, 1891), which, in turn, credited a source called "Spare Moments."

Garson also cited an earlier example of the joke from the Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1891, page 3, column 4.  That article also cited Spare Moments.

WorldWideWords identified Spare Moments as a London weekly of the period.

I checked the British Newspaper Archives and found several examples that antedate the LA Times article.

I do not have full access to the archive, so I only poorly digitally transcribed text snippets.

The earliest is from Weekly Irish Times (Dublin, Republic of Ireland), June 20, 1891, page 1.

The joke appears a week later as part of a Prize Joke Competition in the Burnley Express (Lancashire), June 27, 1891, page 3, and again at the end of July in the Waterford Mirror and Tramore Visitor (Waterford, Republic of Ireland), July 30, 1891, page 4.

Beginning in September 1891, the joke appears in numerous newspapers throughout Britain.

The Irish origin might be interesting since WordOrigins.com notes that a traditional explanation of the expression relates it to the Irish word "anacol," which apparently means mercy or quarter.

It seems that the expression took root in America as a result of the joke, which was published dozens of times for more than two decades before the earliest known example of the expression used outside the context of the joke.  Might the original joke in Ireland been a pun of sorts?

The full text of the original might shed light on the matter.  It might also answer whether the joke originated in 1891 or was merely a publication of an old joke.

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

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