Talking about Language

Friday, March 19, 2010

Linguist, lexicographer and the new "On Language" columnist for the New York Times Magazine, Ben Zimmer, talks about the latest in political language and about how he'll approach taking over for the late William Safire, the founder of the "On Language" column.


Ben Zimmer

Comments [38]

danny bloom from New York

Just for the record, I coined "avauntcular" in August 2009 after a friend at Testy Copy Editors chat room asked what would be a good word for the feminine form of avuncular? Avauntular is good, above, but hard to pronounce, and I thought of that, but i went for "avauntcular" because it's easier to say and easier to hear and get it and understand the reference to avuncular and it's now on Uban Dictionary

Mar. 20 2010 10:12 PM
Maya from Brooklyn


Mar. 19 2010 03:29 PM
nycpete from nyc - Manhattan

My wife has used the word AUNTICULAR for 22 years with our nieces. It is an excellent and fluid word for the feminine of avuncular!!

Mar. 19 2010 01:05 PM
JimC from Paramus, NJ

I just got to my computer and see that others have thought of the same word for 'aunt like' as I did --


makes a nice match with avuncular ...

Mar. 19 2010 12:20 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I thought of "avauntular" (w/either the "ant" or "awnt" pronunciation), but the "l" (& the "c") in "avuncular" both come from the "un*cle*" root, so they don't belong in a word that comes from "aunt." I don't think "avauntar" would work, so how about "avauntal"?

Mar. 19 2010 12:11 PM
Dan from new york

Years ago I took a shot at learning the Gaelic language. There was a brief introduction to the nuances of the language. The one that stayed with me was that Gaelic didn't have a yes or no but rather degrees of affirmative and negative. The idea being that humans couldn't know anything absolutely. It explained a lot about Irish interactions with the English where the English were often frustrated by the "evasive" way the Irish tended to answer them. I've often thought the humility of this approach is something that might be more appropriate than the Anglo-Saxon absolutes of yes or no.

Mar. 19 2010 12:06 PM
Estelle from Austin

Actually I guess you need the "u" in there so it doesn't look contrary. So: auntimamian.
Auntimamianism is my aspiration.

Mar. 19 2010 12:06 PM
Estelle from Austin

Antimamian (like Auntie Mame, a colorful, free-spirited and eccentric woman)

Mar. 19 2010 12:03 PM
Chris Carpenter from Park Slope, Brooklyn

If Avuncular refers to an Uncle, Auntaggular refers to an Aunt, as in "Aunt Aggie" !

Mar. 19 2010 12:02 PM
Pauline Park from Queens

How about 'autuncular'...?

Mar. 19 2010 12:00 PM
Nick from NYC

No - some modern variants:

"your call is important to us"
"thank you for your comments"
"your business is important to us"
"our staff will respond to you within 1 business day"

Mar. 19 2010 11:59 AM
Lance from Manhattan

auntlike = tantular or amitary

Mar. 19 2010 11:58 AM
kbinps from park slope

I live in Park Slope and I can tell you that no is not the first word that kids learn here. It's a word they never learn. As for a word for aunt- if she is a sweet caring aunt she would be an auntiedote. or an auntiedoter.

Mar. 19 2010 11:58 AM
Viviane Hays from work


Mar. 19 2010 11:57 AM
george from brooklyn

Ethelian, like Ethel

Mar. 19 2010 11:57 AM
Michael from Boerum Hill, Brooklyn


Mar. 19 2010 11:57 AM
Conrad from Yonkers


Mar. 19 2010 11:56 AM
Marielle from Brooklyn

[5] I could be wrong, but I think that "not so much" came (as did so many other great expressions) from Seinfeld.

Mar. 19 2010 11:56 AM
Matt from UWS

RE: A female equivalent to avuncular

According to Wiktionary:

Adjective: materteral (comparative more materteral, superlative most materteral)
Pertaining to, or in the manner of, an aunt; feminine version of avuncular

Uses in Print:
1990 (US), Peter Van Inwagen, Material Beings, Cornell University Press, ISBN 0801483069, p. 9,
It may be that stipulations about parts and wholes are, in some way that undermines my materteral analogies, unlike stipulations about aunts and legacies.
2004 (UK), Saif Rahman, Archipelago, Twenty First Century Publishers Ltd, ISBN 1904433227, p. 150,
Only some insistent pleading (materteral rather than avuncular) had changed their mind.

Mar. 19 2010 11:55 AM
Awzee from Maplewood NJ

Avauntular of course.

Mar. 19 2010 11:55 AM
Thomas George from Brooklyn

Counterpart for Avuncular: Formicidine

Mar. 19 2010 11:55 AM
Nick from NYC

Let's be symmetrical... Avauntular!

Mar. 19 2010 11:55 AM
Kate Perry from Brooklyn

The most logical femine form of avuncular would be
avauntular but if we were ok with riffing on uncle we could try:
avunculette, avunculess avunculady

I'm working on variants without the uncle part.....

Mar. 19 2010 11:55 AM
FH from Red Hook

How about "auntler".

Mar. 19 2010 11:54 AM
Emily Gordon from Williamsburg, Brooklyn

There's no more famous aunt than Auntie Em. I'm the aunt of two. So the female equivalent of avuncular is, of course, emily!

Mar. 19 2010 11:54 AM
Lance from Manhattan

Like an aunt = tantular or amitary

Mar. 19 2010 11:54 AM
Brendan from East Village

Uncles are Avuncular.

Aunts are Avauntular.

Mar. 19 2010 11:54 AM
maggie from nj


Mar. 19 2010 11:54 AM
Nancy from Manhattan

The aunt version of avuncular? How about avantular (pron. ay-vant-yoo-ler)?

Mar. 19 2010 11:54 AM
Jason from Chelsea

One of my least favorite new political words is "The Homeland." It reeks of Bush-era doublespeak.

Mar. 19 2010 11:53 AM

avauntcular, of course!

Mar. 19 2010 11:53 AM
DANNY ISELIN from woodbridge nj

auntlike = TANTULAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mar. 19 2010 11:53 AM
Zak from Morningside Heights

You should do a piece about the language of baseball. Duck snort, bleeder, texas leaguer, chin music, etc. The colloquial language of baseball is fascinating. It is ever-changing and shifting like Cockney rhyming slang.

Mar. 19 2010 11:52 AM
Lance from Manhattan

Where did "not so much" come from and what was behind its ascendancy?
I hear and read this expression every day nowadays, but rarely heard it used a decade ago.

Mar. 19 2010 11:51 AM
ted from manhattan

how about "yes, but"
this is a great variation

i wear this button often

Mar. 19 2010 11:50 AM
Calder from UES

How about 'no worries,' I can't stand when people say that. And it only sprouted up recently in corporate talk.

Mar. 19 2010 11:50 AM
Tim from Midtown

When does "no" really mean "no"? For instance, in question sentences, the word "no" may not make the sentence negative.


1. Will you shut the door?

2. Won't you shut the door?

Assuming the request is granted, the response to both would be "Sure". Opposite question, same answer. What is the linguistic reasoning for this?

Mar. 19 2010 11:10 AM

I have a four year old who doesn't understand my native language now. I spoke to him Albanian until he turned two but switched to English then. Quite often I have doubts whether that was the right decision. He is very eloquent in English.

Mar. 19 2010 10:09 AM

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