phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Uncle Tom

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 01, 2006

In Reply to: Uncle Tom posted by RRC on February 28, 2006

: : In response to your response about "sick as a dog" someone called dogs the Uncle Toms of the animal kingdom. This in fact is a misstatement. If you have seen the movie Uncle Tom's Cabin you would know that Uncle Tom was noted, not for sucking up to anyone, but for standing firm on his faith in the midst of adversity, even to the point of death. He was not a sycophant by any means when it came to his belief in God.

: N., you have fallen into what some people call the "etymological fallacy" - the belief/insistence that the origin and the meaning of a word must forever be the same thing. Left-handed people are sinister, right-handed people are dextrous, awful and awesome are both good things to be, etc. RRC

I'm not sure I understand the appositeness (is that a word?) of RRC's response. What N says about Uncle Tom is what people who've read the book all tend to say. (I haven't read it.) If I understand RRC correctly, he's saying that people's ignorance of the real (well, fictional) Uncle Tom, has permitted the phrase to take on a new meaning, which has superseded the correct one. I say tosh! This case is not at all like the sinister meaning which the word sinister has taken on. Trying to rehabilitate Uncle Tom's reputation and the meaning of the phrase is a noble occupation, even if perhaps vain. The fact that words and phrases are used incorrectly on a very wide scale (e.g. internecine) doesn't mean that careful writers should use them the same way. SS