November 16, 2023

#08-358: Say "Uncle"!

Uncle Sam on a U.S. Army recruiting poster (Wikipedia)

Note: When we want someone to give up, we tell them: "Say Uncle!" But the word has lots of other idiomatic uses besides.

Get Ready: What does the word "uncle" mean to you (besides the obvious, literal meaning)?

On a popular American game show, two family groups face each other and try to guess the most popular answers to survey questions--not the right answers, mind you, but the ones most commonly given by respondents. For example, when I say, "American city," what's the first thing to come to mind? Most people would say "New York," fewer would say, "Los Angeles," and so on. Teams that choose the more popular answers win.

Now, complete this phrase: "Uncle _____." Here are my top answers:

Uncle Sam: Look at this uncle's initials and you might guess something about him: U. S. He is a fictional personification of the United States. When people pay taxes, they say "I'm sending some money to Uncle Sam." An Army recruitment ad said, "Uncle Sam wants YOU," with a grey-bearded old man in red, white, and blue pointing at the viewer.

No one knows his origins, but Uncle Sam has been an American symbol at least since the early 19th century. Some think the figure represents the citizens of the U. S., but most see "him" as a personification of the government.

Uncle Tom: Believe it or not, a novel called Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best-selling novel in 19th-century America, and the second best-selling book of any kind: only the Bible was more popular. Published in 1852, in the decade before America's Civil War, it focused on a primary cause of that war: slavery.

It tells the story of a group of slaves centered around a kindly old man they call "Uncle Tom." He is actually uncle to none of them; it's just a term of respect.

One of Uncle Tom's traits has made him controversial since the rise of the civil rights movement in America: he was easy-going about the slaves' condition, so he is thought of as having betrayed his race. Today, calling a black person an "Uncle Tom" is an insult, a way of saying he is too submissive to the white establishment.

Uncle Oscar: Most Americans know something of Uncle Sam and Uncle Tom. But the whole world knows of Uncle Oscar! According to one story, when the statuette for the Academy Awards was first displayed, a president of the Academy is reported to have said, "He looks like my Uncle Oscar"--and the name stuck!


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

  1. betrayed
  2. controversial
  3. establishment
  4. personification
  5. recruitment
  6. respondents
  7. slavery
  8. statuette
  9. submissive
  10. traits
  1. the power structure in a society
  2. a figurine; a small statue
  3. characteristics; features
  4. bowing down; not asserting power
  5. the representation of an abstract idea in human form
  6. people who reply to something
  7. the attracting or hiring of workers
  8. causing disagreement
  9. the "owning" of human beings
  10. violated the trust of

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 16, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. h; 3. a; 4. e; 5. g; 6. f; 7. i; 8. b; 9. d; 10. c