BROTHER-IN-LAW.

Is the husband of your wife’s sister your brother-in-law?
I would have said “no” and been pretty sure I was reflecting standard usage, but it turns out I would have been wrong. Bill Poser at the Log has a post about this, sparked by “a news item in which men in this situation (one of whom is accused of trying to hire an assassin to kill the other) were described as brothers-in-law”; he was surprised to see it, because to him “there is no named relationship” between such men. I agreed with him, but he and I are in a distinct minority; most of the (so far) 74 comments say things like (to take the first two) “I use brother-in-law in that context, as does my wife” and “It never occurred to me not to use ‘brother-in-law’ to refer to my wife’s sister’s husband.” I thought perhaps it was a generational thing, since Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary has the definition “broadly : the husband of one’s spouse’s sister,” whereas the entry in the newest (eleventh) edition drops the “broadly” and just includes “the husband of one’s spouse’s sister” as one of the basic senses, but I asked my wife and she has no problem with the broad sense. Furthermore, in the Log thread, Jerry Friedman (November 20, 2009 @ 3:14 am) said, “This has come up on alt.usage.english a few times, and the results are much like those here—everything from people who’ve never heard the extended sense to people who thought everyone used it. I don’t recall any regional pattern ever showing up.”
So I thought I’d ask you all the question I began with; you might add, for scientific purposes, where you’re from (or, if different, what dialect you speak), and (if, of course, you feel like it) your approximate age.


Incidentally, this problem does not arise in Russian, where there is a separate word свояк [svoyák] meaning ‘wife’s sister’s husband.’ And Sravana (November 20, 2009 @ 12:18 am) wrote in the Log thread, “In Indian English, Edward and Michael are co-brothers,” a term that (like prepone) might usefully be adopted by the standard language.

Comments

  1. At one time I was friendly with my brother’s wife’s family, including my brother’s wife’s sister’s husband. I decided that as my brother’s brother in law he was my brother-in-law-in-law.
    I read an anthro book somewhere arguing that “relatives are people”. In other words, the kinship charts anthropologists make are meaningful only of the people on the chart have some sort of interaction structured by their kinship relationship. If they have no personal relationship or if the relationship is not structured by kinship, they’re not kin in an anthropological sense.
    Since my brother-in-law in-law was part of my life, and part of my life as my brother’s relative, I’d say he was kin, whereas my grandfather’s brother’s descendants, who I’ve never met and whose names I don’t even know, really aren’t.

  2. Wow. I had no idea the restricted meaning had such currency! I would have said, of course he’s your brother-in-law. What else? You can’t leave such an important relationship without a name, that would be nuts.

  3. Johan Anglemark says:

    Very tangential of course, but a data point from another Germanic language (Swedish): Yes, the extended sense in Swedish. AFAIK this is uncontroversial in Swedish, but of course I could be wrong and I don’t know what it was like a couple of hundred years ago.

  4. Johan Anglemark says:

    I have to add, though, that the first dictionary I went to after posting that says of the extended sense: “also extended”. So I suppose it’s the same in Swedish after all. Who’d have thunk.

  5. The brother-in-law usage is completely natural to me, even though in my case, he is my ex-brother-in-law, my wife’s sister and he having divorced. I’m surprised there is any question about it. Otherwise you would have to use the form “he is my sister-in-law’s husband,” I suppose.
    [Origin: Australia, much British R.P. influence, generation: let's say more than pension age !]

  6. I refer to my husband’s brother’s wife as my sister-in-law and my husband’s sister’s husband ad my brother-in-law. Mostly because there isn’t any other suitable term for the relationship.

  7. p.s. Sorry, am English by birth and early childhood, Canadian after that. Early 50s.

  8. rootlesscosmo says:

    Born New york City 1942, San Francisco Bay Area resident since 1958; yes, my spouse’s sisters’ husbands are my brothers-in-law–a default usage for me, because until the Log post I hadn’t thought about whether this connection has, or deserves, a distinct name.

  9. I’m 45, grew up in the Boston and New York areas, and it never occurred to me until reading this that my wife’s sister’s husband could be anything but a brother-in-law to me.

  10. I have no hesitation in referring to my wife’s sister’s husband as “brother-in-law”. To be sure, I am far more likely to say “Alan”, even though I hardly know him.

  11. Hmmm..never thought this would be controversial! My husband’s sisters’ husbands are my brothers-in-law, and my sister’s husband is considered ‘brother-in-law’ by my husband (and the sister-in-law thing likewise). From Texas, I was born in 1956 and my husband was born in 1942.

  12. Cheryl Collins says:

    I am surprised that the broader usage is so common. I would have to answer the question as a NO (59 year old native of NJ, living in southern CA for 35 years).
    It reminds me of the problems surrounding the Yiddish word “Machatunim” that means the parents of your child’s spouse. While the meaning of this word is very specific I have heard people use it to simply refer to in-laws in a general way.

  13. Otherwise you would have to use the form “he is my sister-in-law’s husband,” I suppose.
    And that’s exactly what I’d say.
    This sharp and unsuspected divergence is interesting; it’s amazing what you take for granted until you start asking around.

  14. Early 40′s. English born and bred. Lived in Spain since the age of 22. I only have one English brother-in-law, who has a brother I barely know and need no word for. I haven’t heard brother-in-law used in the extended sense.
    On the Spanish side I have various ‘concuñados’, a word meaning precisely the brother/sister of a brother/sister in law, and that’s what I call them. On the other hand, I spoke of my brothers/sisters-in-law as such long before I married my wife, and only her mother objected.
    Tangentially, or probably OT, in Spanish your cousin’s father and mother are your aunt/uncle and your cousins’ children are your nephews/nieces. So your second cousin is your nephew, and what they call a second cousin is in English a cousin once removed (and so on). Do any English speakers follow these usages, I wonder.

  15. I’m in my mid-40s and grew up in Maine. My husband’s sister’s husband is my husband’s sister’s husband, not my brother-in-law.
    I, too, am surprised! I never thought the in-law terms stretched so far.

  16. “whereas my grandfather’s brother’s descendants, who I’ve never met and whose names I don’t even know, really aren’t.”
    Then John, you’re lucky none of them is likely the insult the Emperor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_kinship
    Read the sub-paragraph (next to last) under Law that deals with Fang Xiaoru. Then read the paragraph on Nine grades of relations.

  17. One of the purported superiorities of Chinese civilization is that you have precisely adjudicated answers to this kind of question, and if I poked around in my dictionaries I could find the Chinese answer. I’m too lazy to do that, though I can say that your wife’s sister’s husband is at best a distant relative in the Chinese system, whereas there will be precise terms for very distant relatives in the male line.

  18. “Is the husband of your wife’s sister your brother-in-law”
    Can they claim thy will without a will stating they can have the monies.?????
    OED
    brother-in-law
    prop. The brother of one’s husband or wife; the husband of one’s sister. Sometimes extended to the husband of one’s wife’s (or husband’s) sister.
    c1300
    b. humorously. The father of one’s daughter-in-law or son-in-law. Obs.
    1611 SHAKES. Wint. T. IV. iv. 720 Who..is no honest man to goe about to make me the Kings Brother in Law.
    sister-in-law
    a. The sister of one’s husband or wife. b. The wife of one’s brother. c. The wife of one’s husband’s or wife’s brother.

  19. For me (25 years old, raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, living in Cleveland, Ohio), it means only “spouse’s brother” or “sibling’s husband”.
    By the way, in addition to the “spouse’s sibling’s husband” use that Dr. Poser came across, a few of the comments at the Log indicate a “sibling’s spouse’s brother” use (though none of the commenters there seems to have noticed the difference). Given that the narrower senses of “brother-in-law” already have a similar ambiguity, I imagine that most speakers with one of the broader senses will also have the other.

  20. Nora Carrington says:

    I’m 53, grew up in Washington DC, now living on the West Coast where all relevant in-laws live and are from. My sister’s first husband had no married siblings, but I did refer to his mother as my mother-in-law on occasion, as the married sister was my only partnered sibling and I was single, too. I don’t think of/speak of my sister’s second husband’s mother that way, mostly because we’re not as close, I suspect.

  21. In Indian English, your spouse’s sibling’s spouse is called your co-brother or your co-sister, and are distinct from brother-in-law or sister-in-law. (It would be a major faux pas to confuse the terms, as it would imply inbreeding in your in-laws’ family). Nearly all Indian languages have their own specific terms referring to the co-brother or co-sister relationship.

  22. I find that I have a lot to say about this, though not necessarily very interesting.
    I think that when I first learned the words brother- and sister-in-law I was told spouse’s sibling or sibling’s spouse. Since then, the extensions (a) sibling’s spouse’s sibling and (b) spouse’s sibling’s spouse have occurred to me as plausible extensions, but although I may use them I do still think of them as extended uses.
    On reflection, (b) is more plausible than (a). I’m looking at it like this: First there’s a bunch of siblings. Then you marry one of them and become a sort of honorary member of the gang. Somebody else marries another one and joins the gang, too. Then both of you are new members of the same gang. Likely to be at the same holiday gatherings, for example. Nestmates willy-nilly. Whereas if your sib marries my sib, there’s not the same sense of us both joining the same family.
    Someone at LL pointed out that Jane Austen uses “brother-in-law” in an extended sense, in fact my preferred sense (b), when Elizabeth Bennet doubts that Mr. Darcy would consent to marry into her family after Mr. Wickham had done the same.
    In another Austen novel we have Emma Wodehouse and George Knightley related in the (a) way: her sister is married to his brother. “in-law” words are not used, but the question arises at one point (before the silly pair figure out that they are in love with each other) whether the two of them are “too much brother and sister” to dance with each other. Mr. K says “certainly not!”
    (I myself see nothing improper about dancing with my, in the strictest sense, sister.)
    I believe that somewhere else in Austen’s novels the plain word “brother” (or maybe “sister”) is used where in fact the relation is by marriage.
    I have sometimes wondered whether terms like brother-in-law reflect a view (current somewhere, some time) that people related in that way are in some legal sense actually siblings.
    I have heard of a Yiddish word for this relationship between two women: the son of one is married to the daughter of the other. But I forget what the word is.

  23. I consider my husband’s brother’s wife having no kin or legal relationship to me whatsoever. If I felt close to her, then we would be friends, not sisters-in-law. I’ve never heard of such stretching of the term “in-law.”
    b. Detroit, 1962, Canadian family mostly.

  24. Based on empty’s comment above about the difference between spouse’s sibling’s spouse and sibling’s spouse’s sibling, and my earlier comment about the former being called co-sibling, I propose that the latter be called counter-sibling!
    So: two siblings marry two other people, who then become co-siblings of each other. Conversely, when when your sibling marries someone, that person’s sibling would become your new counter-sibling.

  25. thanks for the reference to Russian names for members of an extended family. A native Russian speaker, I can assure you that, as extended families shrink, those names become as difficult to remember as various in-laws in English.
    But the discussion here reminded me of the famous American (?) joke, retold in many different versions. Here is a favourite of mine:
    Al Gore was in London and met the Queen. Ever the policy wonk, instead of asking her about race horses he quizzed her on her leadership philosophy.
    The Queen said she found that the best way to govern was to surround herself with intelligent people. “But how do you know they are intelligent?” Gore asked. “I ask them telling questions” said the Queen and promptly telephoned Tony Blair.
    “Mr Blair,” the Queen said, “your mother has a child, your father has a child and this child is not your brother or your sister. Who is it?”
    “Why, it’s me,” said the Prime Minister, without a pause. “Correct” said the Queen.
    Gore returned to America and called George W. “Mr President, may I ask you a question?” he said. “By all means,” said the President.
    “Your mother has a child, your father has a child and this child is not your brother or your sister. Who is it?”
    George W. was stumped and remained silent for a while before saying, “May I get back to you on that, Al?” He asked all his closest aides before finally ringing Colin Powell, to whom he posed the telling question. Powell, like Blair, replied, without a pause: “It’s me.”
    George W rang Gore and said: “I know the answer to your question. It’s Colin Powell.”
    “Wrong,” said Gore. “It’s Tony Blair.”

  26. I’m 23, from the Baltimore-Washington suburbs.
    I don’t have such relatives at the moment, my husband’s brother and sister being 15 and 3 years-old, respectively, so I hadn’t thought about this particular ambiguity before.
    I’m pretty sure that I would call my spouse’s sibling’s spouse my brother- or sister-in-law. I don’t think I would call my sibling’s spouse’s sibling my brother- or sister-in-law. And I second empty’s analysis of the situation. :)

  27. I’ve wondered on more than one occasion whether I should be referring to my brother-in-law’s wife as my sister-in-law. I still haven’t figured it out, but I refer to her as exactly that anyway.

  28. I happily use it in the broader context. And you know my details.

  29. 30, Miami Florida (test out as unaccented American english, not southern or hispanic)
    The narrow interpretation was a revelation to me, broad has always been my understanding.

  30. I haven’t been in a context where I’ve had to use the word in relation to me, but the broad interpretation was always natural to me.
    I have had some uncertainty about uncle vs. uncle-in-law (the OED lists the first as ‘also’ the second), though.
    Late twenties, grew up in rural Ireland, travelled too much (within Europe) since then.

  31. How strange to discover that this usage is so common; it would never have occurred to me. If such a person existed, I would call him my sister-in-law’s husband. (I’m 31, from California.)
    My Salvadoran neighbor says that she would call such a person “concuño”, which seems to cover both a spouse’s sibling’s spouse and a sibling’s spouse’s sibling.

  32. 1) Born in Boston, raised in Florida, age 50. Always use it in the stricter sense, but mostly because, being an only child and unmarried, I don’t have any, of either the stricter or broader type. However, the broader version sounds eminently reasonable to me. There is also the general phrase “my inlaws” to cover the entire family of one’s spouse in one blow; that seems to be fairly common.
    2) I think Jane Austen uses the term “father-in-law” (or possibly it’s “mother-in-law”) where modern usage would use stepfather/mother. So by extension, a stepbrother or stepsister would be brother/sister-in-law.
    3) As mentioned, Yiddish has the term machuten/eh to refer to the father/mother of the spouse of one’s own child. But no term, as far as I know, for any other extended relationship.

  33. @empty IIRR -in-law words in Jane Austen usually refer to step relationships, though mother-in-law for stepmother is the only actual example that comes to mind.
    On the general question, I think my own usage tends to the narrow sense, restricting it to sibling’s spouses, but then I don’t see much of my siblings’ spouses’ families. Origin SE England, age early 50s, lived in SE Asia for the last 20+ years.
    I did have occasion just yesterday to refer to somebody’s sister-in-law’s brother-in-law (i.e., her brother’s wife’s sister’s husband). Would this be included as brother-in-law for those with the expanded understanding of the term?

  34. A Chinese familial relationship chart, including Mandarin and Cantonese.
    Back in Louisiana, we tended to refer to everyone as “brother” or “sister”, regardless of their in-law or marriage status — once they were family, they were family. But whether that’s due to people not knowing the words for these relationships in English and falling back on the simplified terms or not, I couldn’t say.

  35. As far as English usage goes, I would not sniff at the “broad” interpretation of brother-in-law. However, in genealogy, you would get an argument.

  36. 19, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I wouldn’t use brother-in-law in the extended sense, but it might be because I’m from a rather small family, and when I learned the term brother-in-law I (would assume) I learned it as applying to my mom’s sister’s husband. He’s got siblings, but they’re all unmarried, and so I’ve really never had a relation like this to name.

  37. Bill Walderman says:

    Personally, I don’t have any in-laws, and so I rarely need to draw distinctions between classes of relatives by marriage, but I don’t have a problem with referring to the spouse of somebody’s spouse’s sibling (did I get that right?) as a brother-in-law/sister-in-law. As long as there’s no practical significance to the distinction, it’s just easier to use the term “brother-in-law/sister-in-law than to spell out the relationship. I grew up in New York City; went to school in New England, and have lived in the Washington, DC area for about 35 years.

  38. Schwiegermutter and other German words for in-laws look they could be related to the verb schweigen, meaning “not say anything”.
    “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” Is an in-law someone who didn’t say anything to stop the wedding?

  39. Yes, in my corner of Wobegon it’s the broader sense, after all, their children are my nieces and nephews, although like John Cowan I would use their first names or describe them to an outsider as “X’s sister’s husband.” Oh, and I’ve never had a wife; I presume the question applies equally to husbands.
    your wife’s sister’s husband is at best a distant relative in the Chinese system, whereas there will be precise terms for very distant relatives in the male line
    Arabic has different names for family members depending on whether they’re on the mother’s or father’s side, specifically uncles, since one set of cousins they are prohibited from marrying, while they will almost certainly marry one from the other side. (for Moslems, that is; Catholic and Orthodox Christians have different rules for marriage.)

  40. At Thanksgiving I will see, for example, my my wife’s mother’s half-sister’s daughter and my wife’s mother’s stepdaughter’s sons’ wives; can I just call them cousins? As long as I also remember their names?
    Do the Chinese have a word for “wife’s goddaughter’s fiancé”?

  41. I agree with some earlier posters – I do use the term brother-in-law in this way but in doing so I am making a conscious statement about the closeness of our relationship. If I had barely met this person, or didn’t get along with him, I wouldn’t call him my brother-in-law, I’d call him my husband’s sister’s husband.
    Incidentally, I’m a thirty-year-old woman and a Los Angeles native.

  42. While I use and regard as perfectly normal the broader sense (see above), I don’t think I would use brother-in-law for sibling’s spouse’s sibling – but then I don’t have siblings.

  43. I had always assumed that brother in law applied to any male that was married to anyone on the brother/sister level of kinship. For example, I am currently staying with my sister in law and her husband. I reference him as my brother in law.

  44. The brother-in-law usage is completely natural to me
    To me on the other side of the Tasman, too. Perhaps my idiolect has been influenced by a plethora of step-siblings and their multitudinous spawn, but whatever the reason, the husband of my wife’s sister is always my brother-in-law.

  45. Good god, no. I wouldn’t dream of referring to those people as my brother- or sister-in-law. That would be misleading, it would jump a step.
    Like Language, I would say “brother-in-law’s wife”, or more likely “wife’s brother’s wife”. If Paul thinks this is too unwieldy, how does he refer to “wife’s brother’s girlfriend”?
    I was born in England in 1953 and grew up there.
    I like Ignoramus’s “father of one’s daughter-in-law”, I’d never thought of that.

  46. By the way, “wife’s brother” is fewer syllables than “brother-in-law”.

  47. I had actually been pondering just this issue shortly before it came up in the Language Log, in the context of my wife’s brother’s (Cherman) wife.
    I was unpersuaded that “sister-in-law” was appropriate, and given that she is genuinely my wife’s sister-in-law, I was toying with “sister-in-law-in-law” or “sister-in-law (once removed)”.
    (British, late thirties, living in the Netherlands for the last three(3) years.)

  48. Alan Palmer says:

    We are friendly with my brother’s wife’s brother and I think of him as my brother-in-law. He’s been married three times and divorced twice, and I’ve never thought of any of his wives as my sister-in-law, though. ;)
    I’m from London, England and in my early 60s.

  49. “sister-in-law (once removed)”
    I quite like that.

  50. I have already claimed “sister-in-law-in-law” for my sister-in-law’s sister (her husband being my brother-in-law-in-law).

  51. Is there a kinship name for “the man your mother would have married if she hadn’t married your father”? Because such a relative of min is a world famous senior bungee jumper in South Africa.

  52. Throbert McGee says:

    I have heard of a Yiddish word for this relationship between two women: the son of one is married to the daughter of the other. But I forget what the word is.
    Russian has the words kum (m.) and kuma (f.) to describe the reciprocal relationship between parents and godparents, which strikes me as vaguely similar to the relationship described by the Yiddish word you can’t quite remember. (If you are a man, the godfather of your own child is a kum to you, and the godmother is your kuma; and reciprocally, you and your wife are kum and kuma to your child’s godparents.)
    For the relationship between godparent and godchild, there are gender-specific terms all related to the verb krestit’, “to baptize”: one’s godson is, for example, krestnik. I have no idea what the etymology of kum is, though.

  53. Bill Walderman says:

    As I mentioned in a totally irrelevant comment on Language Log, the traditional Russian kinship terms “sv’okor” (husband’s father) and “dever” (husband’s brother) have exact etymological counterparts in ancient Greek “hekuros” (from *swekuros) and dae:r (from dawe:r). Helen addresses Priam in Il. 3.172 as “phile hekure,” and Hektor in Il. 6.344 as “daer emeio,” and refers to Agamemnon in Il. 3.180 as her former “dae:r.”

  54. Throbert McGee says:

    And the only reason I happen to know these not-very-useful Russian words is from hearing it in a folksong lyric that I had to sing in 2nd-year Russian class:
    Не лед трещит, (Ne ljod treshchit)
    Не комар пищит, (Ne komar pishchit)
    Это кум до кумы (Eto kum do kumy)
    Судака тащит. (Sudaka tashchit)
    Meaning: “That’s not ice cracking; that’s not a mosquito squeaking; it’s godfather dragging a pike-fish to godmother.” (And the song continues with the godfather exhorting his wife to cook the fish with parsley to make a nice dinner…)

  55. Schwiegermutter and other German words for in-laws look they could be related to the verb schweigen, meaning “not say anything”.
    “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” Is an in-law someone who didn’t say anything to stop the wedding?

    empty: Nice one. But since forever to hold my peace is not an option, let me add my mustard (Ger. loc.) to the subject. Grimm, Jstor and Latin Assistent tell me that Schwieger is related to Sanskrit svasura (with accents aigus over the esses), parallel to Latin socer (father-in-law) and socrus (mother-in-law) [4th declension].

  56. (once removed)
    This used to mean something quite specific, along with “second cousin” and “third cousin”. For example you could say someone was your “second cousin twice removed”, although we cousins of the younger generation don’t understand “removed” any more. This went along with “kissing cousin”, who was a relative distant enough you would hypothetically be allowed to marry them, although no one ever wanted to. Finally the phrase “shirttail relation” was coined to mean someone you were related to but found the explanation too difficult to explain to children, in other words, you are related by your shirttails, which is not a whole lot of genetic material in common, but you’re still family even if you can’t explain how.
    If that wasn’t difficult enough, our family tends to have a lot of guys with the same first name who were related by marriage only. They were known by the wife’s first name, i.e. if Jane and Mary both married someone named John, you would have “Jane’s John” and “Mary’s John”. I too brought yet another one of these into the family, but it didn’t become “Nijma’s John”, rather the initial of the last name was used.

  57. (once removed)
    This used to mean something quite specific, along with “second cousin”
    I don’t know why you say “used to”. I know my first cousins once removed both of the older and younger generations, and the same goes for second cousins. I even know (in the email sense) one of my third cousins.

  58. the same goes for second cousins
    I.e. that I know them. By definition my 2nd cousins are the same generation as me.

  59. (cousins removed)
    As I understand it, it goes like this:
    Say that X has a child X_1, who has a child X_2, who has a child X_3, and so on, while X’s sibling Y has a child Y1, who has a child Y2, and so on.
    Then X1 and Y1 are (first) cousins, as everybody knows, and Xn and Yn are nth cousins, as practically everybody knows.
    My understanding is that X1 and Y2 are first cousins once removed (not second cousins once removed — that’s the part I used to have trouble remembering), and that in general Xm and Yn are mth cousins n-m times removed if m is less than n.
    If you took this a step further, numbering X as X0 and Y as Y0, then you would find yourself saying “0th cousin” for sibling; “0th cousin once removed” for aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew; 0th cousin twice removed for great aunt, great uncle, grand-niece, or grand-nephew; and so on.
    One more step, and you start saying “negative first cousin once removed” for parent or child; “negative first cousin twice removed” for grandparent or grandchild; and so on. In particular this makes you your own negative first cousin. (Understand that “negative” is not modifying “cousin” here: rather “negative first” is my stab at an ordinal number for negative one. I never know whether to spell 0th “zeroth” or “zeroeth”.)
    I’m just fooling around now, but I’m perfectly serious when I tell students and colleagues (and anyone else who will listen) that the empty topological space is a sphere of dimension -1, and that its negative first reduced homology group is non-trivial.

  60. josephdietrich says:

    I’m 42 years old, born in Cincinnati, OH, and raised there and, after age 10, in small town southern Indiana. My family heritage is German, and both areas I grew up in had a relatively strong German identity.
    If my wife’s brother were to marry, without thinking about it I would refer to her as my sister-in-law. Sayin “my wife’s brother’s wife” just seems cumbersome, even if legally accurate.

  61. I use the term brother-in-law. (Well, in my case it’s a sister-in-law but same deal.) The way I approach it is that, as in J Austen’s novels what we now consider a stepmother is referred to as a mother-in-law, any person I am connected to by contract or marriage rather than blood is that relation “by law” or in the law’s eyes. So unless there is a more common term for the relationship (ie: the usage of stepbrother, stepfather, stepnephew) I use in-law. This extends to my husband’s cousins (my cousin-in-law), grandmother, etc…
    As to origins, I am 29 and grew up mainly in the midwest but was heavily influenced by a grandfather from New England and 10 summers in England.

  62. empty: I have never been sure what “once removed”, “twice removed” etc. traditionally mean. But I see two quite different lines of thought in this comment thread.
    According to your presentation, “removed” refers to “vertical” distances marked off on the diachronic axis, i.e. over time and generations. That’s why you needed only two generational lines X1 and Y1 to explain “first, second …” and “once, twice …”.
    On the other hand, des introduced the example “my wife’s brother’s (Cherman) wife”, and toyed with “sister-in-law (once removed)” as a description of the relationship. Hat liked that description, and it fits in with the topic of this thread as set by him: “Is the husband of your wife’s sister your brother-in-law?” This is describing “horizontal” relationships marked off on the synchronic axis, i.e. marking distances outwards in space, not over time.
    So, now there are two things I don’t understand.
    1) As always, what “first cousin”, “second cousin” etc. traditionally mean, and what “once removed”, “twice removed”.
    2) How to resolve the discrepancy between the synchronic and diachronic viewpoints as presented here

  63. Early 20s, north of England.
    If my brother’s wife had a brother, I would refer to him as my ‘sister-in-law’s brother’.
    However, if my husband’s brother had a wife, I’m fairly sure I’d refer to her a sister-in-law.
    Does anyone else draw this distinction?

  64. in my language everybody at the spouse’s side becomes khadam, khadam father, khadam mother, khadam akh, khadam duu – brothers( old and younger) etc
    two people married to the siblings become khud, if males
    the female word i can’t recall, but there should be, i’ll write it if recall, i think it was ber, bergen – the direct meaning is daughter-in-law, so two women married to brothers become bers of that family

  65. but there should be another word, b/c son(brother)-in-law is called khurgen
    khud are when two brother-in-laws call them between themselves

  66. As I remember, the children of your parents’ cousins are one thing, and the children of your own cousins are a different thing. But I can’t remember which is second and which is removed.

  67. The children of my parents’ (first) cousins are my second cousins, while the children of my (first) cousins are my first cousins once removed.
    My dad’s family is fairly large, and on average quite technically minded… so we go through these definitions every two years at the reunion, because no one but me ever seems to remember, yet they all want to know the technical term for what Paul’s kids are to John, and so on. :)

  68. Which is, of course, precisely what empty said, just restricted to the first level, rather than defined for the whole set of potential relations of that sort.

  69. Emms: As I remember, the children of your parents’ cousins are one thing, and the children of your own cousins are a different thing. But I can’t remember which is second and which is removed.
    They’re both your first cousins once removed (“removed” meaning of a different generation). Your second, third, fourth cousins are all the same generation as you; just at increasingly remote levels of kinship.

  70. a) sister’s husband = my brother-in-law
    b) spouse’s brother = my brother-in-law
    c) spouse’s sister’s husband = spouse’s brother-in-law = my brother-in-law by marriage
    -
    Problem: ‘in-law’ means ‘by marriage’, so “by marriage” here would have to be discriminated systematically from “in-law” here.
    n times removed” would help, but the meaning of that, too, would have to be agreed on.
    For myself, I’d resort to the loose definition of “brother-in-law” for ‘my spouse’s sister’s husband’ (and my sister’s husband’s brother), and specify genetic distance (and personal closeness) as appropriate to the insinuatedness (insintuation) of the question, which might, instead of details, call for, “What, are you writing a book?”
    “One of my spouse’s relatives” works, with details forthcoming as appropriate.

  71. Yeah, this talk of vertical separation is off-topic.
    -
    This “once removed” etc terminology does in some sense have a precise meaning, explained above by both me and CL, but it’s also true that many people who have heard of it are not quite sure what it means — in both CL’s family and mine they seem to need occasional reminding — and many more probably do not care. A technical term can undergo the same kinds of semantic drift (at which point is no longer functioning as a technical term) as any other word: think “ah, but that was light-years ago”. I’m not fighting it.
    -
    My wife’s cousin Deb the art historian (that’s the one who says I look like a Gothic stone carving of a prophet, for those who have been following AJP’s blog) is cousin Deb. I never call her my wife’s third cousin once removed, or whatever it is, unless I am in the mood for parading arcane knowledge; she’s my wife’s cousin, or my cousin by marriage, or maybe even my cousin — she’s Debbie.
    My sister’s ex-quasi-wife used to be jocularly called my sister-outlaw. We hardly see her any more, but she feels like part of the family. (She hasn’t been removed?)
    I don’t usually describe my mother-in-law’s half-sister as such; I call her her sister, or my wife’s aunt, or possibly my aunt; but mostly I use her name.
    “Half” or “second” or “step” can give offense, and understandably so. It’s not just that “stepmother” and “stepsister” have been tainted by what happened to Cinderella and to Hansel and Gretel. Using these terms can unnecessarily draw attention to relative unrelatedness. Of course, the terms convey information, but a simple “this is my cousin” may better convey the right information in the moment than “this is my wife’s second-half-cousin once removed’s brother-in-law”.
    “Mother-in-law” and to lesser extent “brother-in-law” have been tainted, too, I would say, by jokes, but people almost never leave out the “in-law” as they leave out the “step” or the “half” or the “second” or the “removed”.

  72. Sorry, Emms. You’re right, & now honour forces me to kill myself. Goodbye all.

  73. Which is, of course, precisely what empty said, just restricted to the first level, rather than defined for the whole set of potential relations of that sort.
    I interpret this to mean that empty has accurately explained the cousin/removed systematics, which I had never understood.
    Remains the discrepancy between this systematics and the suggestion introduced by des: “sister-in-law (once removed)”. “Once removed” in that suggestion describes a horizontal relationship independent of generational ones. In the traditional sense, “once removed” describes a vertical relationship, that of distances between generations.

  74. I also would have said, ‘of course he is your brother-in-law.’ But this is really a question not just about language, but also of conceptions of family. Even inside my family I bet there would be a difference of opinion – my father’s side of the family is of Scottish/English descent, while my mother is from Portugal. The Portuguese family extends to even the vaguest relations the word ‘cousin,’ while my father’s family thinks that ‘family’ doesn’t extend much past the nuclear family.
    I think the ‘join the same gang’ philosophy is a great model, but how big is the gang? I think it might be a cultural concept as much as anything else.

  75. Rach, that distinction is useful.

  76. But before I go, does anyone remember when President Nixon and Pat visited England in the early nineteen-seventies? For several days, there was talk of him being the Queen’s seventh cousin. Does anyone know if this is true? If so, it’s yet another reason for them to be banished.

  77. Yeah, this talk of vertical separation is off-topic
    empty, why is that? Don’t you think “vertical” helps to explain what “x-times removed” means, with less mathematics than you used? In particular, I thought “vertical”/”horizontal” might help to see that des’ “sister-in-law (once removed)” suggestion is incompatible with the traditional sense of “once removed”.
    Perhaps this was already clear to everyone except me.

  78. But perhaps these issues (thread topic !) were not already clear to everyone except me. I find that Crown’s (mis)understanding of “first, second … cousins” as referring to the same generational level was also my (mis)understanding – although I’ve never been sure.

  79. Stu, I was not accusing you of taking us off-topic by using the word “vertical”, or anything like that. I just meant to say that of the two themes that you very usefully label “vertical” and “horizontal” it is the horizontal that was involved in Hat’s post. In any case I don’t mind going off-topic (ever).
    To me, apart from the opportunity to parade arcane knowledge, the main interest in this thread is that it is an opportunity to revel in the seemingly endless multiplicity of ways of being related, ways of talking about being related, and ways of caring about being related. And we haven’t even started in on the meaning(s) of adoption yet!

  80. Damn. The “sister-in-law (once removed)” was a joke.
    [hangs head]

  81. I don’t think I misunderstand it, Crumbly.

  82. Mr. Crown, if you’re not going to be around is it OK if I go through your stuff? I doubt that your family will appreciate it properly.

  83. And I don’t think it’s arcane, by LH standards. Trivial maybe.

  84. You’re welcome to my stuff, in fact I’ll put you in my will. Do you want any organs? You can’t take the goats.

  85. I thought you corrected your initial claim about what “first, second … cousins” are, after rereading what JE had originally said !?
    Never mind. Suffice it to say that I had enough misunderstandings of my own about the cousin/removed business. My booty from this thread is that I now understand that business, and missed a joke.

  86. Remains the discrepancy between this systematics and the suggestion introduced by des: “sister-in-law (once removed)”
    Firstly, I’m not especially systematic (and first-and-a-halfly, kinship terminology makes my brain ache), and secondly, when it comes to semantic drift I’m more of a semantic white-water-rafter. (That’s not a boast, it’s just the way I’m wired.)

  87. In general it’s an academic question for most people. I have only ever needed the terminology because I have older cousins whose kids are my age. I occasionally meet the children of cousins my age, but not often and I mostly just call them by their names, or perhaps “Keith’s daughter”.
    My great-uncle Oscar does have a very large number of descendants in the Ozark area, but I’ve only met one of them once, since Oscar and Grandpa Albert had a falling-out. If I went down there I suppose I’d have to bone up on the terminology and make up some charts, and identification stickers to put on people.

  88. I have no idea what the etymology of kum is, though.
    Well, you’ve come to the right place! The etymology of kum is…
    *thumbs through Vasmer*
    …unknown. There are various unsatisfactory hypotheses, the least unsatisfactory of which is that it’s related to an archaic synonym kmotr, which is formed on the basis of the feminine kmotra, which is from Vulgar Latin commater.

  89. The guy is rather stingy with the unsatisfactory hypotheses, if you ask me. I know people who can propose ten unsatisfactory hypotheses before breakfast.

  90. does anyone remember when … Nixon … visited England in the early nineteen-seventies? For several days, there was talk of him being the Queen’s seventh cousin.
    I don’t doubt it. It’s a very popular game in the press. Here is Wikipedia’s take on it. Which is by no means complete. Here is the NYT from a few years later quoting a report from Debrett’s Peerage linking Carter, too. (Sorry that it’s a paid link; that’s about all it really says, except for the money quote, “definitely more closely related to British royalty than any American President since Washington.”)

  91. Being Anglo-Saxon, I likes to keep it simple and mono. If ye not be a bro or a sis then thee must be coz if ye use one of the family monikers.
    “sister-in-law (once removed)” By law by any chance?
    Soon we will make it simple, use DNA markers

  92. I had to add, in Urdu the term hum-zulf is used to describe such a relation.

  93. marie-lucie says:

    kum from kmotra from Latin cummater
    In Late Latin there was cummater and cumpater for the relationship between the “godparents” themselves or with the actual parents. In Spanish this evolved into comadre and compadre, and in French into commère and compère. These words eventually lost their religious and quasi-legal meaning and became terms of address between older friends (like the older English terms Goodman and Goodwife, the latter shortened to Goody). Later the masculine terms continued as terms of address and also to indicate friendship or even mere acquaintance between men of the same (rather low) status, including partnership in not so savoury activities. I don’t know about Spanish comadre, but in French the meaning of (une) commère eventually degenerated into “(a) gossip” – presumably from what older women were said to spend their time doing together, hence the word les commérages “gossiping, rumours”.

  94. compadre
    Isn’t this the same as “comrade”? This is what another (Hispanic) teacher calls me (not comadre). He says it’s what the teachers call each other at public universities in Mexico. It’s supposed to be a huge compliment, being of the people, but I am seeing Marxists under the desks.

  95. Isn’t compére used in England for what is called in the US emcee or master of ceremonies? I never knew where that came from, and I still don’t.

  96. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: compadre, comadre, comrade
    The first two are related as I wrote above, but the last word has a different origin altogether. It comes from French un camarade ‘buddy, pal, etc’, which originally applied to soldiers or prisoners sleeping in the same large room (the “roomful” of men being la camarada in Spanish, the ultimate source of the word). In French the word is used now for both males and females, for instance students in the same class, players on the same team, workers in the same factory, and similar types of relationships arising from proximity and shared experiences. It was also adopted in other languages, for instance there is a traditional German song Ich hatt’ einen Kamerad “I used to have a comrade” (which I think is about two soldiers). The word became hugely popular among the workers’ movements that arose in the 19th century, especially Marxism, but it has a much longer history.

  97. I am seeing Marxists under the desks
    Nijma, without the comprehensive and thorough socialization of investment and risk over the past 150 years, there wouldn’t be too many “desks” for fiscal ‘conservatives’ and libertarians to do their political economy on. (Well, ok, no gain for civilization due to internalizing the costs of social coherence on those desks.)
    I don’t think it matters materially what fiscal ‘conservatives’ and libertarians think prosperity is founded on- any more than right-wing geocentric ‘science’ affects the orbit of the Earth around the Sun.
    But I do think that, if the prosperity that we internet users are coasting atop (in addition to whatever contributions we individually make!) is to be sustained, compadrismo (?) needs support at the level of everyday language.

  98. Nijma–rather humorously, I’ve always thought that “kissing cousins” referred to people who were closely enough related to oneself that kissing them (in greeting or farewell, at least) would not be a breach of modesty: IOW, almost exactly the reverse.
    The X cousin nth removed has one simple permutation: if A is your X cousin N time removed, then you are A’s N cousin X times removed.
    Thus, your second cousin once removed will think of you as being his/her first cousin twice removed.

  99. I was never sure what “kissing cousins” meant.
    I like the catchall “shirttail relative”, although personally I’ll probably just keep saying “some kind of cousin” in that situation.
    Thus, your second cousin once removed will think of you as being his/her first cousin twice removed.
    No, no, it’s symmetric: If X is my second cousin once removed then I am also called X’s second cousin once removed. It means that one of us is a child of a second cousin of the other (and so the other is a second cousin of a parent of the one).
    Let me try again: Second cousins have a shared set of great-grandparents. For second cousins once removed, some great-grandparents of one are great-great-grandparents of the other.

  100. Throbert McGee says:

    The etymology of kum is… *thumbs through Vasmer* …unknown [but possibly ult. from L. commater]
    Heh! Thanks! As long as you’re answering mysterious Slavic etymology questions, any idea why the word for “rat” is szczur in Polish and Ukrainian (щур), AND also happens to be shu-3 in Mandarin ()? It seems counterintuitive that the words could be cognate, but then again, the Euro-Sino trade route is very ancient.
    I’m not 100% sure how the “third tone” in Mandarin is pronounced, but the word strikes me as “close enough for government work” to the Slavic words.
    Why do I bring this up? Because I was recently reading a bilingual English/Polish comic book about the legend of Popiel, a 9th-century Polish tyrant who was allegedly eaten alive by a huge swarm of rodents. The bilingual text referred to both mysz (mouse) and szczur (rat), and the latter got my attention because I already knew the Mandarin word (via reading about the Chinese zodiac), and also because szczur is so dissimilar to the Russian word krysa.
    So I went to the English wiki page for ”rat” and started clicking the “other language” links, to see if any other languages had words possibly cognate with the Polish and Ukrainian. (I have an adorable pet rat, so this is all terribly interesting to me.)
    Among my discoveries:
    • Pretty much all of the Germanic, Scandanavian, and Romance languages have a word phonetically similar to the English “rat.”
    • Ukrainian and Czech each have TWO distinct words for “rat” — in Czech, the different words correspond to the two major rat species that have historically plagued Europe: the “black” or “common” rat (Rattus rattus) is krysa, as in Russian, while the the “brown” or “Norwegian” rat (R. norvegicus) is potkan. Ukrainian has shchur and patsiuk, but the Ukrainian wiki article didn’t make clear whether these referred to different species.
    • Latvian and Lithuanian both have the word zhurka, which strikes me as phonetically similar to the Polish szczur.
    • The Hebrew word is chulda (חולדה). I don’t read the Arabic alphabet very well, but the triconsonant root seems to be gh-r-z (جرذ) — maybe a cognate (by borrowing, not common ancestry) with the Russian krysa? Anyway, the Hebrew and Arabic and Russian triconsonant roots all have the basic pattern “velar – liquid – dental,” which I assume is not a coincidence.
    • The Korean is tsui (), which I assume is cognate with the Mandarin.
    • The Devanagari alphabet is so totally f*cked up that I gave up on even taking a wild stab at how the Hindi word for these varmints (चूहा) is properly transliterated. I think the initial sound might be a “t,” but then again, maybe not.

  101. Throbert, the first letter I can see on my screen isn’t a “t”, but rather a “c”, pronounced ‘ch’ like (twice) in ‘church’. It looks to me like it reads, transliterated, “c[long]uh[long]a”, pronounced ‘choo-huh’. But I can’t find this word in either Cappeller’s dictionary or Lanman’s Reader’s Vocabulary.
    The verb root “c[long]ur”, ‘choor’, means ‘steal’- absolutely varmintish activity, from our perspective.
    ??

  102. “The verb root “c[long]ur”, ‘choor’, means ‘steal’- absolutely varmintish activity, from our perspective.”
    I have no idea why the previous poster described my favourite script as “totally f*cked up”, but I found your post fascinating, deadgod. The vowel changes from चुराना (steal) to चोर (thief) and possibly to चूहा are intriguing. Sadly, I don’t have a monolingual Hindi disctionary with etymology, so I can’t see if the link you posit between चुराना and चूहा is accepted. Thanks for the interesting avenue of inquiry!

  103. Platts says: “[prob. fr. S. चुर्, or चर्व्],” (cur ‘steal’, as you say; carv ‘chew’).

  104. marie-lucie says:

    Throbert, words can be cognate (= ‘genetically’ related) only if they belong to the same language family. So words in Slavic and Germanic may be cognate, because these families are related (they are both Indo-European), but a Korean word cannot be cognate with a Mandarin word because the languages are not related at all. The similarity could be due to borrowing from one language to the other, or to chance. But the similarity between a Slavic and a Germanic word could also be due to borrowing, either between those two families, or through a common, independent borrowings from a different language.

  105. What marie-lucie says is, of course, correct, and there is no possibility of щур being related to a Chinese word (some have thought it related to Greek skiouros ‘squirrel,’ but that’s almost certainly erroneous). I would urge you not to give in to the perfectly normal human impulse to try to find correlations between similar-looking words in different languages, because unless you’ve studied historical linguistics and learned how these things work, you’re certain to come up with folk etymologies, and the world doesn’t need any more of those.

  106. One way to remember that lack of correlation: squirrels are skittish and thieving, but they do not rat on you.

  107. a 9th-century Polish tyrant who was allegedly eaten alive by a huge swarm of rodents
    The same thing has allegedly happened to other cruel rulers, for example Hatto. A different legend holds that Hatto was thrown into the crater of Mount Etna by the devil.
    Hat, was this a relative of yours?

  108. I’ve had odd reactions when I’ve used the expression “my Godson-in-law”.

  109. Fjölni, King of Sweden:
    En er hann snerist aptr til herbergis, þá gékk hann fram eptir svölunum ok til annarra loptdura ok þar inn, missti þá fótum ok féll í mjaðarkerit, ok týndist þar.

  110. Hat, was this a relative of yours?
    Yes, and thanks for reminding me of his cruel fate. This is why I don’t doff my hat to rodents.

  111. marie-lucie says:

    Not an ancestor to boast about, Hat, I would think. But of course it would have been de la main gauche, him being an archbishop and all that.

  112. marie-lucie says:

    Oops, they said “relative”, not “ancestor”. You did not get his direct genes.

  113. Is my father’s step-father my step grandfather or grand stepfather?

  114. Martin Walker says:

    I am in my mid-60s, of English birth; I never noticed the use of the broad interpretation while I lived in England (-1970) My wife’s sister’s husband was just that. To return to the German question, since someone further up referred to the German heritage of his family and espoused the broader interpretation: in German your spouse’s sibling’s spouse is Schwippschwäger-in.

  115. rootlesscosmo says:

    @marie-lucie:
    there is a traditional German song Ich hatt’ einen Kamerad “I used to have a comrade” (which I think is about two soldiers). The word became hugely popular among the workers’ movements that arose in the 19th century, especially Marxism, but it has a much longer history.
    And a more recent one: according to Otto Friedrich’s “Before the Deluge,” Field Marshal von Hindenburg, while President of the Weimar Republic, gave a recording of this song to General Kurt von Schleicher, toward whom he is said to had paternal sentiments; this didn’t stop the Nazis from murdering von Schleicher shortly after Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor..

  116. My ladder is my wife’s son’s stepladder.

  117. Platts says: “[prob. fr. S. चुर्, or चर्व्],
    D’Oh! Thanks, McMM. I have a dead tree Platts but the brutish fiend published it in Urdu alphabetical order which ensures that I use it so seldom I often forget it’s even here. You have reminded me that I must (a)learn to read Urdu and (3)remember Platt’s online.

  118. I have a dead tree Platts but the brutish fiend published it in Urdu alphabetical order which ensures that I use it so seldom I often forget it’s even here.
    Whereas I am deeply grateful for an ordering I can use easily!

  119. Empty:
    Isn’t compére used in England for what is called in the US emcee or master of ceremonies? I never knew where that came from, and I still don’t.
    Yes, though I haven’t heard it much recently. Can’t find any real explanation of why the term came to be used, though.

  120. marie-lucie says:

    In French I don’t think it is an MC, it is more the straight man as opposed to the comedian: his indispensable friend and partner, who appears to be ordinary as opposed to the more brilliant and flashy showman.

  121. Is my father’s step-father my step grandfather or grand stepfather?
    Either one, I’d say. And the other can be your stepfather’s father.
    the straight man
    That strikes me as a plausible missing link between
    compére = buddy
    and
    compére = emcee

  122. Eimear Ní Mhéalóid says:

    I would hesitate a little over calling my sister-in-law’s brother my brother-in-law, but might use the term anyway to shorten explanations.
    I know all about the distinctions w/r/t first, second and third cousins and degrees of removal. I need to as I am well acquainted with a large number of cousins in various degrees.
    Then I also have my Irish-speaking relatives and I think of them variously as col ceathrar – first cousin, literally “relation of 4 persons”, col cuigear, first cousin once removed (ditto 5), col seisear, either second cousin or else first cousin twice removed (ditto 6) and so on.

  123. “there is a traditional German song Ich hatt’ einen Kamerad “I used to have a comrade” (which I think is about two soldiers). The word became hugely popular among the workers’ movements that arose in the 19th century, especially Marxism, but it has a much longer history.”
    The name of the German song is “Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden”. It is indeed about two soldiers and and is played during military funerals. Wikipedia tells you all about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ich_hatt'_einen_Kameraden
    German communists did not address each other as “Kamerad”, but as “Genosse”.

  124. marie-lucie says:

    bruessel, thank you for the corrections. I thought I remembered Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden from way, way back but the -en sounded strange to me even though it is needed for the melody, so I left it out.

  125. Throbert McGee says:

    Throbert, words can be cognate (= ‘genetically’ related) only if they belong to the same language family.
    Really? So Russian чай and Turkish çay aren’t cognate with each other, nor cognate with Mandarin cha-2 (), the word from which both the Turkish and Russian words for “tea” ultimately derive?
    It seems logical to me that a word borrowed from one language family to another can properly be called cognate with its source word, even if there’s otherwise no genetic relationship whatsoever between the source language and the borrowing language.
    That said, I admit it’s incredibly unlikely that the word for “rat” would’ve been borrowed from Chinese into Polish via trade routes, the way that the word for “tea” migrated from Chinese into dozens and dozens of languages across unrelated families — mainly because rats were ubiquitous in the natural environment since before humans migrated out of Africa, whereas tea agriculture originated relatively recently in a specific locality in East Asia.

  126. marie-lucie says:

    Throbert: It seems logical to me that a word borrowed from one language family to another can properly be called cognate with its source word, even if there’s otherwise no genetic relationship whatsoever between the source language and the borrowing language.
    The word cognate is a technical term in historical/comparative linguistics, a discipline which among other things is concerned with tracing the origin of words and if possible with reconstructing the common ancestor of words with a common origin. In this context it is very important to be able to determine whether two words are indeed descended from a common ancestor and have developed since the time of the differentiation of that ancestor into separate languages, or whether one has been adopted from the other language, or whether both have been more or less independently borrowed from yet another language, or whether the resemblance must be due to coincidence or other possible factors. In order to determine which is the most probable scenario, one has to rely on a number of criteria and especially on a detailed knowledge of the structure and history of the languages in question and if possible of others that these languages may have been in contact with (through geographical situation, trade relations, historical dominance, etc). This means that one cannot just look at a couple of words independently of this larger context and decide that they (as words of specific languages) must be related, even if one knows the ultimate origin of the words.
    When you say that a word is “cognate with its source word”, this is another mistaken use of “cognate”. For instance, take the English word “journey” meaning ‘trip’ (originally a one-day trip) and the French word “journée” meaning ‘day, day’s worth (of a potential activity)’. It is incorrect to say that English “journey” is cognate with French “journée”, instead it is “borrowed from Old or Middle French (journée)”, that is, it results from the adoption of the French word into English at a certain time in history. The two words are not cognates, because they are not both the result of independent developments from a common ancestor, which in this case would be as far back as Proto-Indo-European. French belongs to the Romance family which developed from the regional differentiation of Latin, itself a member of the Italic family, and English belongs to the Germanic family which also split up from a common ancestor. Germanic and Italic are two subfamilies of the larger Indo-European family, the common ancestor of which (PIE) is supposed have been spoken approximately 6000 years ago, while the close contact between French and English in England, which resulted in the borrowing of a number of French words into English is only a few hundred years old. So French “journée” is descended (“genetically”, that is through a continuous development) from Latin “diurnata” (itself related to the adjective “diurnus, diurna”, itself related to the word “dies” ‘day’), meaning that it is the result of centuries of linguistic evolution from Latin into French, but English “journey” started life as a borrowing of the French word into English at a certain time in history. Similarly, English “diurnal” started life as a borrowing and adaptation of a Latin word, also at a certain time, but as an English word it is not “cognate” with the Latin word.

  127. Yes, Cappeller has both roots, “cur [and] carv ; corayati, -te” and “c[long]ur ; c[long]urayati”. Platts’s “prob.” looks like scholarly understatement; maybe the variation (of short- and long-u roots) inspires a tiny, rigorous hesitation.

  128. To describe word similarities that are not cognate in marie-lucie’s technical sense, Noetica proposed congeneric, congenerous, or congenerate in a Hat thread this year. marie-lucie expressed her liking for congeneric, so I’ve been using it ever since in discussions on etymology, when I could remember to …

  129. I think in England it’s usually spelt compère, like père in French.
    In Norwegian, they write entrée or entrè, to mean the entry hall of an apartment or house, with no regard to the accent. They use a grave accent to distinguish en bil (= a car) from èn bil (= one car).
    Which reminds me that I don’t know an English equivalent for the Norwegian word sluse or the German Schleuse (which also mean, in English, a canal lock) to mean a small safety zone between two bigger rooms or spaces (e.g. the little hallway between an office building and its underground parking garage). Sluce or lock don’t really have that meaning in English. Can anyone think of an English equivalent? Language will give a small prize to the best one.

  130. for the best one.

  131. I’d call it port. Is that too general?

  132. mollymooly says:

    When my sister described her husband’s brother as my brother-in-law, I pointed out that he was her brother-in-law but my brother-in-law-in-law. After a moment’s reflection, she agreed that this was so. I would have regarded her usage as an easily-made error rather than a justifiable extension of the stricter sense; akin to not knowing the definition of nth-cousin-m-times-removed.
    One’s sibling’s spouses are not among one’s in-laws, even though they are one’s siblings-in-law; similarly for one’s children-in-law. So it seems plausible that the extended sense of in-law should be used more readily for spouse-of-sibling-of-spouse than for sibling-of-spouse-of-sibling.
    Distinguishing co-sibling from sibling-in-law would be useful; we could then distinguish co-sibling-in-law, sibling-in-law-in-law, and co-co-sibling. But, for maximum flexibility, we need to use all-suffixes: a brother-law-co-law is not the same as a brother-law-law-co. I think.

  133. Lucky Luke: Is that too general?
    It’s not bad, actually.

  134. River locks, air locks, sluices:
    I believe that the word vestibule is sometimes pressed into service for this, for lack of anything better.

  135. O’Mooly, brother-in-law-in-law is no better than the more straightforward sister’s brother-in-law.

  136. Thanks, ø. That will do fine.

  137. Three extra points for knowing there’s an I in sluice, like in juice.

  138. AJP: I would call it a sas but I think I’m using the French term there – I get a bit confused at times. Being a bit old-fashioned, ante-chamber ?
    I would think of port only in the maritime sense, or in the computer sense.

  139. marie-lucie says:

    marie-lucie expressed her liking for congeneric
    I had totally forgotten that, but it was a very good suggestion of Noetica’s, so I should remember to use it myself.
    le sas, le vestibule, le passage
    Un sas is an intermediate space, not in a building but for instance in a submarine where you cannot just open a door to the outside as the water would rush in, you need a space which can be filled with water and emptied of it as needed. Similarly for a space shuttle and the presence or absence of air.
    Le vestibule is a more classy word than l’entrée for the place in a house or apartment where you first step in from the street or the landing, when you are not entering a room directly from the outside. It will probably have hooks to hang coats and a place to leave boots or umbrellas. But for a small space between two rooms inside a house (often because of remodelling), the best word might be le passage since it is only for “passing through”. .
    There is also une antichambre which is less likely to be in an ordinary house than in a palace or other large building, for instance a small waiting room where you wait to see an official. To me the connotation of the word is an older building, with carved wood panelling in the lower half of the walls, for instance.

  140. the little hallway between an office building and its underground parking garage
    Crown: I suppose I know the kind of thing you’re talking about, but I didn’t know that it might be there for a particular reason, other than to be just a way to get from A to B without exposure to the elements.
    You call it a safety zone. Is this a technical fire-protection feature to meet safety codes? On the analogy with fire door, I’m thinking I may have read “fire corridor” somewhere. But that may a special corridor chopped out to direct the course of a forest fire, or something like that.
    Unlike fire doors, perhaps not many people are aware of the safety function of these things. That may be one reason why it does not seem to have a familiar name other than passageway or corridor.
    I imagine that there are many things with purposes relating to fire safety codes, structural stability etc. for which your average Joe or Grumbly has only the words “column”, “hallway”, “goddamn heavy door”.

  141. The relationship your spouse has to their family members, you have as well, with “-in-law” added. So your spouse’s brother-in-law is your brother-in-law-in-law. But, just as second or third cousins can be called plain “cousins”, especially when you spend lots of family time together, multiple “in-law”s can be collapsed, to get at the general type of family relationship without having to draw a family tree.
    I’ve also heard the term “out-law” used humorously for the in-law-in-law situation.
    My family tree has been subject to much pruning and grafting over the years, and I make fine distinctions others might not. Since step-parents have parents, and parents can have step-parents (and even step-parents can have step-parents), I distinguish (humorously) step-grand-father, grand-step-father, and step-grand-step-father (all of which I’ve had).
    I also have half-siblings, maternal step-siblings, paternal step-siblings, ex-step-siblings (including the half-sibling of a half-sibling), and I know of the existence of the half-sibling of a half-sibling of my half-sibling (I share a mother with my half-brother, who shares a father (my ex-step-father) with my ex-step-brother, who shares a mother with his half-siblings)–those children used to come up quite naturally in conversation when I was young and my then-step-brother would visit, since he shared a house with them.
    Some of my step-siblings have had step-siblings “on the other side”, too, similar to cousins on the other side.. y’know, your cousins’ cousins on the side of their parent (your aunt or uncle) related to you only by marriage.
    And, because my wife was foolish enough to marry into this mess, I have sisters-in-law, who also have husbands, who are my brothers-in-law-in-law.
    I tend to refer to many of these people who have just one modifier (half-, step-, or -in-law) as my “brother” or “sister” in casual conversation with people who don’t know my family history or the particular person involved, precisely so I don’t have to sketch out a family tree to explain who a particular person is. I collectively refer to them as “pseudo-siblings”, too.
    I also drop the less relevant modifier when there are two. So my step-sister’s husband is my step-brother-in-law, but I call him my brother-in-law. BTW, “step-brother-in-law” is an ambiguous term, since for my wife, her husband’s (that is, my) step-brother is her step-brother-in-law. The difference is made clear with parens: I have a step-(brother-in-law), while she has a (step-brother)-in-law. I make the distinction verbally by which syllables get what stress and where the pauses go.
    It’s odd that though I don’t have any sisters I’m related to by blood, I’ve had to put up with 4 different sister-like girls as they go through their teenage years. Fortunately, because of the bushy nature of the family tree, there have never been more than 2 of them in any one household.
    I wrote a long SpecGram article to explain this system, which uses compositional meanings for all the various modifiers and allows for things like “maternal-step-grand-ex-step-father-in-law” (the step-father of an ex-step-mother of your spouse.. it happens). It came out sufficiently weird (how could it not?), but perhaps not all that SpecGrammy because it’s mostly quite real and could be mistaken for serious scholarship. Sigh.

  142. marie-lucie expressed her liking for congeneric, so I’ve been using it ever since in discussions on etymology
    Yes, that’s a good word. Let’s try to get it established.
    sas
    I wasn’t familiar with that word, so I looked it up; it has two basic senses, ‘sieve’ and ‘(air)lock,’ but what struck me was its etymology, an excellent example of how Latin words get squashed in their Gallic development. Sas (medieval variant seas), originally ‘sieve made of silk,’ is from Vulgar Latin setacium, a derivative of Latin s(a)eta ‘silk’ (which itself, of course, becomes soie in French).

  143. I think that vestibule is the right English word. That doesn’t specifically mean the kind of room described, but it can include it I think and I don’t know of another. Passageway is just a hallway to me, and needn’t have doors at either end.
    What it is is a two-way double-ended vestibule, and it functions like a lock but no one would call it that. It’s between A and B, and is a separated part of both.

  144. I think airlock is probably the right technical term in English, though I like antechamber because it’s more about space and less about boring old hvac. Yes Rumbly, in the parking lot example it’s to stop fumes from the garage entering the building.
    Things for which your average Grumbly has only the words “column”
    I have a special personal hatred of the word pillar being used to mean column. I also hate the tautology of “support column” and “support beam” though I suppose there’s no reason why anyone else has to; journalists use them a lot.

  145. Sorry. I know italics are expensive.

  146. How do you pronounce sas in French? Like sass in English?

  147. “SAS, Surfers Against Sewage are an environmental campaign group with a mission to rid the UK coastline of sewage.”

  148. The word sluice is related to exclude; a sluice (in the sense of a floodgate) keeps the water out. That’s when it’s closed.
    When it’s open it lets the water in. It let’s the water coming sluicing in. “Sluice” is a fun* word to say, juicily onomatopoetic when it’s a verb.
    Even if it ever meant canal lock (which is not quite the same as floodgate), this word seems too watery at this point to be usable on dry land.
    *I used to quarrel with people for using fun as an adjective, but I’m an anti-prescriptivist now.

  149. Crown: what do you see as the differences between pillar and column? I don’t think I’ve ever thought to use the word pillar to describe anything structural. If I used it, it would only be for something too narrow to be called a column. Is that technically correct? Or does a pillar have a different function?
    “Pillar” I know only from bible stories, or in hackneyed expressions like “pillar of smoke”, “pillar of the community”.
    We will not allow ourselves any musings here on the German Piller. That was another thread, and besides the wrench is dead.

  150. Sorry: I meant “and besides the Mensch is dead”, referring to Schiller.

  151. I had to teach my Taiwan students that “funny” is not the adj. form of “fun”.

  152. marie-lucie says:

    The French word sas is pronounced [sâ] but before I learned that pronunciation I thought it was [sas]. It is not a very common word, so it is possible that many people think the way I used to.

  153. lets

  154. marie-lucie: the Petit Robert says [sas]. The pronunciation window confirms this.

  155. Cognate is indeed a technical term in linguistics as m-l describes: it is also a technical term in historical Roman law meaning a relative of any degree on either side. Sometimes it is opposed to agnate, a relative in the male line only; when a man died without an heir, the heir was the nearest agnate, and only if there were no agnates might a cognate inherit. Consequently, sometimes cognate is limited by context to mean ‘cognate who is not an agnate’. This is not necessarily the same as ‘paternal relative’; one’s father’s mother’s brother, for example, is a cognate, because there is a female link in the descent line. In certain archaic laws the agnati were collectively responsible for some of one’s doings.
    Kinship is complicated enough today, and in the future it may get more complicated yet. Here’s Cordelia Vorkosigan talking to her son Miles’s clone Mark in Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold:
    “What am I to you, as a Betan?” he asked, nervously fascinated.
    “Either my son or my son once removed,” she answered promptly. “Unlicensed, but claimed by me as an heir.”
    “Those are actual legal categories, on your homeworld [Beta Colony]?”
    “You bet. Now, if I had ordered you cloned from Miles, after getting an approved child-license first, of course, you would be my son pure and simple. If Miles as a legal adult had done the same, he would be your legal parent and I would be your mother once removed, and bear claims on you and obligations to you approximately the equivalent of a grandparent. Miles was not, of course, a legal adult at the time you were cloned [by some terrorists in an extremely stupid and convoluted plot], nor was your birth licensed. If you were still a minor, he and I could go before an Adjudicator, and your guardianship would be assigned according to the Adjudicator’s best judgment of your welfare.”

  156. marie-lucie: the Petit Robert says [sas].
    Whereas the Petit Larousse says [sa]—the rivalry continues!
    Actually, while my old 1926 copy just says [sa], the 1993 (which I, sadly, still think of as “the new one”) says [sa] or [sas].

  157. Pistols at dawn,

  158. Early 30s, raised by Brits in the US, NYC-PHL metro.
    I do often extend this usage to my sister’s husband’s brothers. I find it a useful shorthand when I’m speaking to someone outside the family — my sister is considerably older and these men have been part of my extended family since I was a child, so “my sister’s brothers-in-law” makes the relationship sound more distant than it is. On the other hand, if people know I only have one sibling, they might suspect her of polygamy…
    In a less formal environment, I might have referred to these men as “uncles” my whole life, but, well, we are quite formal.

  159. I think of pillars as being freestanding and not carrying a load, see the Pillars of Hercules drawings here. However, this may be just my definition, lifted from virtually the only time I use the word, and that is in connection with the pillar box, the old black & red-painted GPO mail boxes in England.

  160. marie-lucie says:

    French sas
    As I mentioned some time ago, my Petit Robert is from 1968, and it says . No doubt the rarity of the word has led to the common pronunciation sas in a later edition.
    LH, your 1926 Petit Larousse should say [sâ] not [sa] (I am using the notation â to indicate the low back vowel in both dictionaries. This is the traditional French spelling, not the accepted IPA usage, which represents this sound by a different a letter from the one used in most type).

  161. mollymooly says:

    I suppose uncle-in-law might mean the uncle of one’s spouse, whereas uncle-by-marriage seems to mean the spouse of one’s blood-aunt (or -uncle). Thus one might further distinguish blood-uncle-in-law from uncle-in-law-by-marriage.
    O’Mooly, brother-in-law-in-law is no better than the more straightforward sister’s brother-in-law.
    Repeating “-in-law” is usefully succinct in a pedagogical or jocular nonce-word. In a practical term for daily intercourse, not so much. Ditto “uncle-in-law-by-marriage”.
    PS My people are the McMoolys. The O’Moolies are an unrelated sept.

  162. I think of pillars as being freestanding and not carrying a load, see the Pillars of Hercules drawings here.
    And he thinks of Venus as armless and noseless.

  163. Wikipedia says, in an article that is as remarkable for its brevity as … (I don’t know, you finish the sentence):
    A pillar is similar to a column which is a vertical support structure in architecture, but the base section is any shape but circular.

  164. When someone is called a pillar of the community, does that mean that they bear a heavy load of responsibility or just that they stand tall?

  165. Never heard of this extended usage before and in fact I don’t really like it ;) it seems sloppy despite the fact that there is no other word for it. Canadian, Ontario, born 1973.

  166. Wiki: A pillar is similar to a column…but the base section is any shape but circular.
    Sorry, I forgot to say that the Wiki article is complete nonsense. A structural column doesn’t have “a base section”. The base of a Roman classical column (Greek columns didn’t have bases) has both square and circular components in plan. If they’re talking about what the column sits on, that is a pedestal, not a base. It’s also irrelevant.
    Unlike the rest of Wikipedia, I advise anybody reading a Wikipedia article on architecture to treat it with skepticism. Although some are okay, they are mostly a mishmash of misunderstanding and half truth.

  167. It was fairly clear to me that that article was nonsense, but it was not clear what wrong statement the author intended.

  168. LH, your 1926 Petit Larousse should say [sâ] not [sa]
    It does, sorry. I was being lazy and just trying to indicate it didn’t have -s.

  169. My theory of Wiki is that it’s dangerous on things you unfamiliar with and useless on things you’re familiar with, but indispensable for things you know something about, but not too much. It’s biggest advantage is quickness, which is an enormous advantage, but you have to know enough to critique the articles because some are poor and far too many are hodgepodges written by committees (whose members, in the worst cases were not on speaking terms.) And I’ve seen some genuinely masterful articles.

  170. Agreed, John.

  171. M-l, thank you for the sas pronunciation. At school we learnt that a circumflex in French is often a tombstone for an S that died, so sâ makes sense to me and I take it it’s pronounced like “sah” would be in English — in contrast to sa, which has a shorter A.

  172. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, exactly. But nowadays many young people don’t even know how to pronounce the sound correctly, let alone the word.

  173. Texas, mid-40s, Eastern European immigrant parents. Without reading more than a handful of the above entries…
    My spouse’s brother is my brother-in-law. My brother’s wife is my sister-in-law. My brother’s wife’s brothers are my brothers-in-law. The husband of my mother’s second husband’s daughter by a previous relationship (Mom married husband #2 long after I left home so I call his daughter “my mom’s stepdaughter”) is nevertheless also “my brother-in-law,” if I’m speaking quickly–otherwise he’s “the husband of my mother’s stepdaughter”.

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