The Grammarphobia Blog

A female version of “avuncular”

Q: A caller asked you on the air if there’s a feminine equivalent to “avuncular.” The Oxford English Dictionary lists “materteral” as meaning “characteristic of an aunt.” It comes from the Latin “matertera,” which refers to a mother’s sister. That’s consistent with “avuncular,” which means “characteristic of an uncle.” It comes from “avunculus,” which refers to a mother’s brother.

A: You’re right. But the OED lists only a single published reference to the word, from 1823, and calls it “humorously pedantic.” Until it shows up in more dictionaries, not many people are likely to use it. It’s not completely useless, however, as long as we can use it to answer the question, “What’s a word meaning ‘aunt-like’?”

By the way, one listener suggested creating the word “aunticular” and another listener suggested “tantatious” as feminine versions of “avuncular.”