The subtle regionalisms are the most interesting

I find it really charming how "auntie" is used in New England as a noun in semi-formal speaking and writing (he has three aunties) rather than just a title for a specifc family member ("Auntie Jane"). It especially stands out to me when I see it in writing, such as "Client reports good support system. Has two aunties who live locally and visit him often." I particularly liked it when I heard it hypothetically today; someone was talking about a young teenager who lived with her father and wasn't comfortable talking to him about female issues and someone else asked "Does she have an auntie or someone she might talk to?" Heh.

How far south/west does this usage extend? Is it also common around the NYC area? Or DC? What about Ohio and thereabouts? I definitely know it's not common usage in the midwest or western states, where it would seem overly familiar to refer to someone's aunt as an "auntie" without knowing her quite well.

(And why isn't there unclie?)


6 comments:

Penny L. Richards said...

We were in a preschool co-op for three years where the majority of the parents were from India, and where I was daily referred to as Auntie--as in "Tell Auntie thank you," or "Another marker please, Auntie." One boy protested that, because I had red hair, I wasn't really an Auntie; but it's what Indian children are taught to call all adult women, to be polite. So, same word, different usage, and since you're thinking geography, we're in California.

eeka said...

Huh! That's really intriguing!

Neasa said...

In the south, White folks usually say "Aunt" & pronounce it "ant" or more particularly, if they're Appalachian, "aint." Most of the Black southerners I've known say "Aunt" or "Auntie"& pronounce it "ont." It's sort of considered snobbish for a White southerner to pronounce it "ont," but not so for Black southerners. I have no idea why.

As to polite usage, we would never call a woman we didn't know well or were related to Aunt So-and-So unless Aunt had, through usage, become part of her name. To do so would be impertinent. If we needed to convey that level of respect to an Aunt-type woman we were not close to, we would use "Miz" or "Miss First-Name," regardless of her age. With this exeption: I was taught that as a White person, it would be disrespectful to address an Aunt-type Black woman as "Miss First-name," so I would address such a woman as "Miz Last-name" or just Ma'am if I didn't know her name.

Fascinating topic.

littleredcar said...

Here in the multi-cultural state of New Jersey, I hear the term "Auntie" mostly from the Indian-American community, and it's used as a term of respect, so Penny's got it right.

You'll also hear that phrase in the many Asian markets in both NYC and Philly.

Jen Stewart said...

When I lived in Hawaii, the term Auntie was used for just about any female older than the person using it. And they pronounce it 'Ant-y' -- not 'Awnt-y', as they do here.

Typical 'Auntie' phrases tossed my way included (with translations from the local Hawaiian 'pidgen' way of speaking if I think it might be confusing):

"Ho, Auntie! What time you get?" (Excuse me, could you tell me the time?) -- from just about any random person noticing I have a watch when they don't.

"Auntie, Ke'e' got 15 feet! What, tink I can leave early?" (I know I'm scheduled for another 4 hours, but the surf's really good at Ke'e Beach, and if you can spare me, I'd love to leave early to enjoy the waves) -- from the guys I supervised, if they happened to be surfers and wanted to bug out early to catch the good waves.

"Auntie! Auntieeeeeee! I LIKE!!!!! Can??" (I like that, can I have some please?) -- from the neighborhood kids or my small cousins or the kids I taught reading to, upon noticing that I had candy/rice crackers/salted plums/stickers or anything that looked fun or tasty.

'Aunties' in the plural almost always seemed to be describing a group of 2 or more women of above a certain age (50ish or older) who were inclined to put you in your place if you were being stupid. Favorite example of this was relayed by a relative who was working at a mini-mart when a guy walked in and tried to walk out with a six pack of beer without paying. The two elderly local women also shopping there yelled, 'EH! What you tink you doing! You like one smack or what? Your mom guys drop you on da head or someting?' And the guy, who could've snapped both of them in half with his bare hands, mumbled 'Sorry, eh, aunties.' and put the beer back and left. When you were talking about aunties like that, you better behave or suffer their wrath. Heh.

My cousins from Hawaii STILL call me Auntie. I kind of like it. :)

Kristine said...

My boyfriend is half-Chinese/half-Caucasian and from Los Angeles...he calls his aunts auntie. I think that he also grew up calling adult women (not necessarily family members) auntie as a term of respect. I'm from Jersey and I always just said aunt, pronounced as "ant".