Three Wise Guys: Flirting vs. Charming, Scissors Tether, Origin of 'Crying Uncle'

By Joe Heim, Justin Rude and Dan Zak
Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dear Wise Guys:

I'm in my early 20s, working for a prestigious company. One of the consultants I work with is a charming older man (a little older than my father). Now, to give proper context, I tend to harbor slightly inappropriate feelings for older men, though I have never acted on them. Ever.

Anyway, I look forward to his dropping by and chatting with me. Here's the thing: I can't tell if he's flirting or if he's just charming, or both. The occasional wink as he walks by, his corny jokes and his sympathy leave me either thinking he sees me as a daughter or wondering whether he has other intentions. Is there any way to decipher this? You know, just to satisfy my curiosity. No other reason.


Dan: There is a way to decipher whether he's flirting or just charming. And that way is to listen to me: He's flirting. He's an older man, you're a younger woman (presumably attractive, based on our readership statistics). Flirting doesn't mean his intentions are nefarious. Right now it sounds as if he's just trying to be suave. Either way, it seems as though you want to satisfy more than your curiosity.

Justin: You're exultant for the consultant.

Joe: You're rah-rah for Grandpa.

Dan: (This is what happens when one's editor goes on maternity leave.) Anyway. He's flirting. Enjoy it. Don't act on it.

Dear Wise Guys:

The three wise guys I live with are always using my stuff and not returning it. Reach for a stapler? Gone. Need tape? Not on my desk. Are eight pairs of scissors enough for a family of four? Not if they need to live in my kitchen or desk drawer.

I've noticed that retail stores have these neat cables that are attached at one end to furniture and at the other end to a camera, cellphone or other gadget. Where can I get these? They'd be perfect for keeping my toys and tools where I need them.


Justin: Like everything cool and useful, security tethers can be bought online. For your needs, I suggest the coil systems sold by Se-Kure Controls ( The eight-foot colored coils are $5 each, and there's a $25 minimum on orders. And our colleague Anton Ramkissoon tracked down pen securers on the Staples Web site. Search for "pen with ball chain." (Who says this isn't a helpful column?)

As long as you are securing your office supplies, why stop there? The exploding dye packs banks use to foil robbers would be a great way to keep your stapler from wandering. Though I would guess you need some sort of license for that kind of hardware. But really, is any effort too great to keep from having to buy more scissors?

Last week we solicited your help in determining the origin of the phrase "Cry uncle!" when a kid is forcing another to admit defeat. We received about 40 responses (we didn't even know we had 40 readers), and here's what they had in common: nothing. Every historical source seems to offer a different theory. Here are some of our favorites:

The following is copied directly from Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris: Uncle! is an expression commonly used to mean "Enough" or "I give up." . . . It goes all the way back to ancient Rome. When a Roman youngster got into trouble, so the story goes, he would yell "Patrue mi patruissime" -- "Uncle, my best of uncles!"


Glad you raised the question. I've wondered for years, and you inspired me to check a reference my wife gave me recently, the Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. It says "uncle" comes from the Irish word "anacol," which means mercy.


My guess is the term "cry uncle" came from 19th-century America and meant Uncle Sam. If you yelled "Uncle!" you were a fellow American, and it made no sense to beat you up. Though it might come from a comic or a book.


This comes from being forced to admit "You're a monkey's uncle," which comes from some of the fun comments surrounding the famous Scopes "monkey trial" in 1925. You Wise Guys are too young to remember that, otherwise you would be Wise Men.


And finally . . .

It's a short version of "Get off me, you carbuncle!," used often by shipheads.


Joe: Well, I'm glad we were able to clear that up.

Have a question only the Three Wise Guys can answer? Send it to and await their words of wise-dom.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company