Posted by: Jack Henry | November 23, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Relative Words

This weeks emails from the Wordsmith have been about counterpart words, such as bass/treble, AC/DC, and in this case materteral and avuncular. The definitions and the etymologies are interesting, and as an aunt, I had to love materteral, even though I cant pronounce it. Here are the descriptions from the Wordsmith.





adjective: Characteristic of, or in the manner of, an aunt.


From Latin matertera (maternal aunt), from mater– (mother). Ultimately from the Indo-European root mater (mother), which also gave us mother, material, matter, matrix, [KC Okay, more on this below, because I had to know the connection between mother and
matrix.] and matrimony. Earliest documented use: 1823.


This word is the feminine counterpart of the word avuncular (like an uncle). Materteral has its origin in the maternal aunt, but now its applied to aunts on both sides, just as the word aunt originally meant paternal aunt, from Latin amita (fathers sister), from amare (to love), but now applies to aunts of all kinds (including an ants aunt).





adjective: In the manner of an uncle, in benevolence, affection, or good humor.


From Latin avunculus (maternal uncle), diminutive of avus (grandfather). Ultimately from the Indo-European root awo– (an adult male relative), which is also the source of atavism, uncle, and ayah.


Originally the term referred to a mother’s brother, from avunculus meaning maternal uncle (paternal uncle was patruus). What’s fascinating is how it describes an uncle: avunculus, meaning a little grandfather. The word uncle is slang for a pawnbroker, so the word avuncular could also mean like a pawnbroker.

Okay, and now for the connection between mother and matrix, from my favorite people at the Online Etymology Dictionary:

matrix (n.)

late 14c., matris, matrice, "uterus, womb," from Old French matrice "womb, uterus" and directly from Latin mtrix "pregnant animal," in Late Latin "womb," also "source, origin," from mter "mother".)

The many figurative and technical senses are from the notion of "that which encloses or gives origin to" something. The general sense of "place or medium where something is developed" is recorded by 1550s; meaning "mould in which something is cast or shaped" is by 1620s; sense of "embedding or enclosing mass" is by 1640s

And in 1999, a whole new definition for The Matrix was given to us from Neo and his buddies.

Now its time to go impress the nieces with my loving, materteral instincts, and pie-making abilities.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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