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My favorite short story in modern Mandarin, 2015 by 王小波, is basically a long, humorous digression about the author's 舅舅:

我舅舅是个无照画家,和别人不同的是,他总在忙些正事。有时他在作画;有时他卖画,并且因此蹲在派出所里。他作画时把房门锁上,再戴上个防震耳罩,别人来敲门听不见,打电话也不接,独自一人面对画架,如痴如狂。因为他住在十四层楼上,谁也不能趴窗户往里看,所以没人见过他作画,除了一个贼。

This word is translated as 'uncle.'

But why isn't the man a 叔叔? What's the difference in usage?

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7  
You will need a lesson on Chinese kinship: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_kinship Scroll to the bottom where the tables are and be prepared to have your mind boggled. –  deutschZuid Jun 22 '12 at 1:30

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Uncles of mother's side are called 舅舅, while uncles of father's side if he's older than your father you have to call him 伯, and 叔 for younger ones. If you have more than one 舅 or 叔 or 伯. You need to add some prefix to specified them, like 大舅 for the oldest brother of you mother, the following are 二舅, 三舅... For 叔叔 伯伯 they apply the same, except there is no 大叔, and the 叔's numbering should inherit from 伯s(e.g., 大伯,二伯,Your Father,then 三叔,四叔). There also have a word 大叔, but it's just a term to refer to some random older man...

For 叔叔, 伯伯 they can also refer to your parents' friends of their generation or your friends parents who are of same generation of your parents. Usually you won't use the term 舅舅 for this kind of acquaintances, but it happens when the guy is your mother's distance relatives, they might come from a same village with a same family name.

EDIT: 叔叔 is also used as a term of address for men (unrelated to you) who are roughly your father's age.

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Strange. I don't know if it's regional usage or something, in your five brother example, I would call them: 大伯, 二伯, 父亲, then 四叔, 五叔. Also,幺叔 is preferred for the youngest one (i.e. 五叔 in this case). –  fatjing Feb 24 at 12:38
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I strongly doubt you're wrong about the numbering. 没听说过排行第四却被叫做三叔的. Take the sitcom 《外来媳妇本地郎》for example (I watched one episode just now), 光宗耀祖 are four brothers, 阿宗's son calls 阿耀 "三叔" but not "二叔". Although the show is in cantonese, I think it's the same for mandarin. In general, the numbering should depend on the order a son was born, e.g. if a man was the third son, then his elder brother's children called him 三叔, his younger brother's children called him 三伯. –  fatjing Feb 24 at 14:25
    
In the north, we usually say 大大 to the men roughly older than your father. This may come from Manchu. –  tomriddle_1234 Feb 25 at 0:18

I just want to give some comments on the first answer:

It should be (大伯,二伯,your father,四叔,五叔),

if they are all female, then (大姑,二姑,your father,四姑)

I agree with fatjing's reply.

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I call my mother's brothers "舅舅", and I call my father's brothers "叔叔"

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enter image description here

because it is traditional chinese

姊=姐 媽=妈 親=亲 婦=妇 兒=儿 孫=孙

I think the person above has given a wonderful answer.

This is the additional image which explains the relationship of chinese relatives

This image is from "baike.baidu.com". So there won`t be any copyright problem.

You can find 「舅」「叔」in this image ( both in the second line ), which can help you understand more about the difference.

姪子、姪女 is not very common, we usually use 侄子、侄女

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1  
Two issues: is it ok to include that image here, are there any copyright issues? Please include a bit of text explaining how this relates to the question; I think I flagged this as a non-answer by mistake because the preview doesn't show the image! –  congusbongus Feb 21 at 4:42

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