Build your vocabulary with Aunt Tracy

English has words like "maternal" and "paternal", along with their homegrown equivalents "motherly" and "fatherly". Same goes for siblings and uncles. But what about aunts?

Here's a round-up of the words you probably know.

RelativeEnglishLatinate
mothermotherlymaternal
fatherfatherlypaternal
sistersisterlysororal
brotherbrotherlyfraternal
grandmothergrandmotherly
grandfathergrandfatherly
aunt???
uncleavuncular

In fact English has two words meaning "like an aunt". Wiktionary gives examples from the OED of authors using "materteral" and "materterine". So at least we don't have to leave that row entirely empty.

The Latin root "matertera" specifically refers to a mother's sister. "Amita" is the word for your father's sister. But Latin also has two words for uncle, "avunculus" and "patruus", that refer to your father's or mother's brother respectively, and "avuncular" still just means "like an uncle". So I think we can safely use "materteral" and "materterine" for any aunts you have around.

(Surely someone has coined Latinate English words meaning "grandfatherly" and "grandmotherly" based on the Latin "avus" and "avia"? I didn't find any, though.)

Written on April 5, 2016