Have you ever noticed how odd some words sound? I mean words that we use every day and think nothing of it, then suddenly one day you focus on one of those words and realize how strange it is. For me, that word is “banana.”
Think about it. “Banana.” It’s a three-syllable word with a peculiar rhythm. The first syllable is stressed, followed by two unstressed syllables. It sounds almost like a chant: Buh-NAH-nuh. And then there’s the spelling. Five letters, with three of them being the letter “a.” It’s a peculiar-looking word, too.
But the strangeness of the word “banana” goes beyond just its sound and spelling. Consider the fruit itself. Bananas are a unique fruit. They’re long and curved, with a texture that’s both soft and firm. They have a distinct aroma and flavor that’s hard to describe. And they come in their own self-contained packaging.
In fact, the word “banana” has its roots in an African language, Wolof, where it was originally spelled “banema.” The word made its way into Spanish, then Portuguese, before finally being adopted by English speakers.
But regardless of its origins, there’s something about the word “banana” that just seems a bit strange. Maybe it’s the way the sound of the word doesn’t quite match the shape and texture of the fruit. Or maybe it’s just that we’re so used to saying it that we don’t even think about how odd it is.
Of course, “banana” is just one example of a word that can sound strange when you really think about it. There are plenty of other words that can seem peculiar or even nonsensical when you focus on them for too long. But for me, “banana” will always be the word that stands out as particularly odd.
Now consider the word “uncle” and compare it to other words with “un” in them. While “banana” may be a peculiar word due to its sound and spelling, “uncle” is interesting because of its prefix “un-“.
The prefix “un-” is a common negative prefix in English, used to indicate the opposite of a word. For example, “happy” becomes “unhappy” when the negative prefix is added. However, in the case of “uncle,” the prefix doesn’t quite follow this pattern.
“Uncle” isn’t the opposite of anything; it’s a term of endearment used to refer to one’s parent’s brother or brother-in-law. So why does it have the negative prefix “un-“?
The prefix “un-” in “uncle” is actually a remnant of an earlier form of the word, which was “nuncle.” This word evolved from the Middle English word “nouuncle,” which meant “nephew’s uncle.” The “nou-” part of the word meant “nephew,” and the “uncle” part was added to specify which uncle was being referred to. Over time, the “nou-” part of the word was dropped, leaving just “uncle.”
So while “uncle” may not fit neatly into the pattern of other “un-” words, its history is an interesting example of how language can evolve over time. And who knows, maybe one day “banana” will have a similarly intriguing backstory.