Little-Known Family Words.

Arika Okrent (a perennial LH favorite) has a list of “11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members” that’s worth a look; I personally consider straight-up Old English words cheating, which lets out four of them (fadu, modrige, fœdra, eam), but the rest could be pressed into service ad libitum (note that Yiddish words are far more susceptible to borrowing than Old English ones). I particularly like the first and last:

1. Patruel

This one means “child of your paternal uncle.” Also, a child of your own brother. It hasn’t gotten a lot of use in the past few centuries, but it was once convenient to have a term for this relationship because it factored into royal succession considerations. The first citation for it in the OED, from 1538, reads, “Efter his patruell deid withoutin contradictioun he wes king.”

11. Machetonim

The parents of your child’s spouse. Your child’s in-laws. Ok, this is a Yiddish word, but one that, like a lot of Yiddish words, has poked its way into English because it fills a gap. When it comes to marriage, this can be a very important relationship, so it’s good to have a word for it. If your parents get along with their machetonim, the family—the whole mishpocheh—will be happier.

Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. Garrigus Carraig says:

    This is good stuff. It’s odd that Arika mentions that “avuncle” is the root of “avuncular” without mentioning that it is the root of “uncle”. Isn’t it?

    A first cousin of one of my first cousins is famous, leading a friend of mine to coin the term “scousin”/”scuzzin” for that relationship.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    The father-in-law of one of my cousins was both Jewish and famous (at least among physicists.) Sadly. there seems to be no word for this relationship in Yiddish or English.

    I think that’s pretty much it for famous relatives, since they stopped publishing the Newgate Calendar.

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    Compadre and comadre are another pair English lacks.

    Goomah, a word that one picked up from The Sopranos, is apparently from the Neapolitan cognate of comadre, somewhat come down in the world.

  4. John Cowan says:

    Goombah is the masculine version, but semantically they are not a pair: ‘mistress’ vs. ‘close friend, associate’ (already the meaning in Italy) > ‘Italian’ (slur). Note the expected change [unaspirated] > [voiced] in all three places.

    There is another lexical gap in English for Latinate aunt/uncle adjectives: amital (which has a confound Amital, a drug) and materteral are rare, but no word seems to exist for patruus: *patrual, *patruistic?

  5. AJP Crown says:

    amital (which has a confound Amital, a drug)
    Not to be confused with (from Wiki):

    Abital or Avital (Hebrew: אֲבִיטַל ’Ăḇîṭāl), a Hebrew female name which means my father is [the] dew. (ab-i means my father; -i is possessive pronoun for “my”.)

    Abital is mentioned in the Bible as one of King David’s wives (2 Samuel 3:4), the mother of David’s fifth son Shephatiah.

    Funny, I know an Israeli man named Avital.

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    Reminds me of Hammurabi “Uncle is a doctor” (well, more or less); we can all agree that that is no mean boast for a king of Babylon to be able to make.

  7. co-brother/co-sister used in India for spouse’s sibling’s husband/wife

  8. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    “Double cousin” is a term used in my family, because the configuration did exist.

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    I remember a Sikh friend years ago talking about his cousin’s husband and lamenting that the English language lacked a word for this relationship. Unfortunately my knowledge of Punjabi is not extensive, so I can say no more.

  10. There are so many of those that have been very gradually dying out throughout the 20th century in Bulgarian. For example “kaleko” (mother’s sister’s husband); no one of my generation uses that — there are probably at least a dozen of them that used to be common.

  11. They’ve been dying out in all modernized societies, I think; certainly in Russian.

  12. I think it’s the shift to small families in the mid — ’20s and mid ’30. In Bulgaria, at least. At least in the US definition of “middle class”, at that point.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Goombah

    Huh, I thought that meant something like “goon” (noun sense 1).

    “Uncle is a doctor”

    *shudder*
    Is the uncle at MIT?

    “Double cousin” is a term used in my family, because the configuration did exist.

    Which configuration – spouse’s sibling’s spouse?

  14. SFReader says:

    Russian has a useful expression on the subject – seventh water on a berry drink.

    It means a relative who is so distant that there isn’t even a term for it in a dictionary.

  15. We have a similar expression in Polish: dziesiąta woda po kisielu ‘tenth water from kisiel’. Kisiel (related to kvas) is the old name for this stuff, which was typically prepared in advance in a large cauldron and then watered down and reheated for several days. The tenth dilution must have been pretty thin.

  16. David Eddyshaw says:

    Nigel Barley somewhere describes his attempts to investigate Dowayo kinship terminology, and his particular difficulties with one term (I forget the original word); part of the exchange with his informant went

    “How many (X) do you have?”
    “I cannot know.”

    It turns out to mean “blood relation for whom there is no other term in the language.”

  17. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is the uncle at MIT?

    No, MIT was founded by the Mitanni.

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    Mention of Abital/Avital reminded me of Abishag (“my father is a wanderer”) the Shunamite.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunamitism

    Despite Thomas Sydenham’s endorsement, this treatment is not available on the NHS, nor covered by most healthcare plans in the US. We probably need properly conducted clinical trials.

  19. I have heard machetonim succintly defined as “the people you share grandkids with”. The etymology is here. As Klein explains it, Medieval Hebrew מְחֻתָּן məḥuttān “relative by marriage of one’s son or daughter” looks like a particular use of the participle of חֻתַּן ḥuttān “to be given in marriage, be married off”, the passive of חִתֵּן ḥittan “to give in marriage, marry” (nowadays most often, “to marry (a couple) as the celebrant at a wedding; marry off as a matchmaker”?), which looks like a denominative (piel) verb from חָתָן ḥātān “daughter’s husband, bridegroom”. The Semitic root is here.

  20. Wow, that Semitic-root site is a great resource — thanks!

  21. Kisiel (related to kvas)
    ditto in Russia; both stems mean “to ferment, to make sour”, and Russian kisel’ used to stand for a fermented oatmeal slurry, but the meaning has gone extinct by mid-XX century, totally replaced by starch-thickened boiled berry drink (which at one time must have imitated the thickened texture of the original oat kisel’). The starch version seems to be on its way to extinction, too, at least I haven’t seen the briquettes of starch-sugar-flavor kisel’ concentrate for ages.

    First time I read about the original kisel’ in Gulag memoirs, it was a kind of a famine food. Oats could be procured from Gulag stables or chicken coops, and the inmates from the village oldtimers still remembered how to convert the feed grain into something prized by the starving humans in a slow process which took many days.

  22. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I read ‘double cousin’ as what we once heard on the Fife coast described as ‘double kinneckit’ – the children of your mother’s sister and your father’s brother, or the other way round. But I suppose it could mean the looser ‘cousin’s cousin’ version, which I have more need for, or some other variant (although I think brothers did marry sisters somewhere in my mum’s family tree)

  23. kinneckit

    Dialect form of “connected”?

  24. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    My best spelling of the local pronunciation 🙂

  25. Trond Engen says:

    My maternal grandparents met through their married older siblings. My mother had three (I think) double cousins. I don’t remember a term for it.

    There’s no established word for distant relative, but torvalmenning has been used jocularly in Bergen. Explanation:
    The usual system is tremenning “second cousin”
    firmenning “third cousin”
    femmenning “fourth cousin”, etc.
    Hence, almenning “common land; (in Bergen:) avenue” is easily understood as “everyth cousin, infinitely distant relative”. Torvalmenning ( from Torvalmenningen “Town Square Avenue”, Bergen’s main street) becomes “infinitely distant relative through (some shoddy relation at?) the town square”.

  26. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Dobbelkusine in Danish would be understood as the “child of both parents’ siblings” — or maybe that’s only in my family because my father had one as well, though I think in that case it was my grandfather’s older brother who married my grandmother’s younger sister. (She was born the same day as my my father’s older sister, making them virtual twins).

    If there is a language with a specific term for this, including the brother/sister distribution and who was older than whom, I shall go find my summer hat and doff it.

    Also, I’m trying to figure out what the consanguinity is for a double cousin like this, compared to a sibling. The same set of four grandparents, but there will be more mixing of chromosome pairs so I think it should be less.

  27. John Cowan says:

    Scots is a language, man! The simplified cluster and -it weak preterite are definitely not English.

    The DSL has an entry for connect adj., ‘rationally connected, logical’ as in a connect argument. It’s obsolete.

  28. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    No one specified a dialect of *what* 🙂

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    Scots is a language, man! The simplified cluster and -it weak preterite are definitely not English.

    Agolle and Toende Kusaal differ at least as much as English and Scots, but the speakers are adamant that it’s all one language. Even if they can’t always quite follow what others are actually saying …

  30. David Eddyshaw says:

    (The latest orthography is actually supposed to unify the dialects, which I would say is a Very Bad Idea, especially from the point of view of Toende speakers. Still, it’s their language …)

  31. “Also, I’m trying to figure out what the consanguinity is for a double cousin like this, compared to a sibling. The same set of four grandparents, but there will be more mixing of chromosome pairs so I think it should be less.”

    But only four great-grandparents, not the usual eight.

  32. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    The child of double cousins would have two grandparents and four great-grandparents, like the child of siblings, but the cousins themselves would still share four grandparents and eight great-grandparents.

    I think. I’ve been reduced to drawing this out on paper.

  33. I’ve been reduced to drawing this out on paper.

    Have you used squares and circles?

    but there will be more mixing of chromosome pairs

    Average should be the same, maybe larger deviation?

  34. Tim May says:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunamitism

    Thanks for this, David. I learned the term some time ago (possibly here) and then more recently I recalled the concept but not the word, and couldn’t find it when I looked.

  35. “Double cousins” is really “double first cousins”. You can also find quadruple second cousins, but they are mostly racehorses, show dogs, etc.

  36. Arika Okrent says that brother-german has nothing to do with Germany. I wouldn’t be so sure. Germānī may have originated as a translation into Latin of the autonym *Swǣβa- (something like ‘sib’).

  37. minus273 says:

    Hmmm, so the Swabians are sibs…

  38. SFReader says:

    I thought it meant “our own [people]” or something.

    And Sweden – Sverige – is “Our own Reich”

  39. Sashura says:

    hm, I was surprised to see the ‘tenth water of the kissel’ in Polish. But then looked it up in Ukrainian, and guess what, apparently they have both versions, the seventh and the tenth – сьома вода на киселі and десята вода на киселі

    My OED has ‘kissel’ as a variant spelling of kiesel.

  40. The word kisiel is still used in Polish but the meaning has changed: today it refers to a sweet dessert made from fruit, thickened with potato starch. The sour soup to which the saying alludes is now called żur(ek) – also an old word, a medieval borrowing (from Middle High German sūr).

  41. I thought it meant “our own [people]” or something.

    So do sib(ling)s. Germanic *siβ-ja- ‘sharing biological ancestors’ and the noun *siβ-jō ‘kinship, consanguinity’ come from *s(w)ebʰ-jo-. A thematic vṛddhi derivative of the same base, *swēbʰ-o-, yields the tribal name od the Suēbī unproblematically. Of course it’s only a guess, but all alternative explanations of Germānī make less sense to me. The name does look like an exonym. It has no plausible native etymology and there is no evidence that any Germanic tribe used it for self-reference.

  42. Lars (the original one) says:

    Does that connect to the base of the reflexive pronoun somehow? Like ON Sveinn supposedly meaning something like ‘our boy’.

    Oh, and wb, Piotr.

  43. The reflexive pronoun and its derivatives apparently had some social meaning. After all, *swe-sor- was not ‘one’s own woman’ or ‘a woman for oneself’ but ‘a woman of one’s family’ (or something to that effect). It’s difficult to tell whether the * part of *swebʰ- should be identified with the adverb-forming *-bʰ(i) of the dative and instrumental endings. Probably not; the whole thing may be an obscured compound (with the approximate meaning ‘living with one another’?). See also Sanskrit sabhā́ ‘assembly, society’.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    the noun *siβ-jō ‘kinship, consanguinity’

    > German Sippe “extended family, clan”. Obsolete and a bit skunked, because the Nazis liked it too much (e.g. Sippenhaftung “liability for the thoughtcrimes of your relatives”). The change in meaning has been replicated by the extension in meaning of Verwandtschaft “kinship” > “the relatives”.

  45. David Marjanović says:

    And Sweden – Sverige – is “Our own Reich”

    Or maybe it’s the horse-nourishing Argolid:

    *h₁su-h₁éḱuo-h₃n-es (a Hoffmann formation) > *sweh(ʷ)ōnes ‘Swedes’, cf. ON svíar, svéar, OE swēon, etc., cf. Tacitus suiones, MLat. sueones, and Jordanes (6th c.) swehans, who provides the remarkable, contextually unnecessary description of them “like the Thuringians, having excellent horses” (Getica III.16 Suehans, quae velud Thyringi, equis utuntur eximiis); also note Snorri’s (Ynglingasaga) account that the Swedish king Aðill (6th c.) loved good horses and possessed the best horses

    BTW, is anyone in a position to check if the y in Thyringi is there in the original? Because umlaut in the 6th century strikes me as a tad early.

  46. If you put “equis utuntur eximiis” into the Google Books search box, about half the results have Thyringi and half Thuringi, for what that’s worth.

  47. Garrigus Carraig says:

    Oh yeah, double first cousins. My grandmother had a set of those.

  48. My answer to David has disappeared. I’ll sum it up again. In Roman sources citing Germanic proper names we often find i ~ y ~ u for reasons unconnected with umlaut: Harudes ~ Charydes, Sugambri ~ Sygambri ~ Sicambri, Thuringi ~ Thyringi. A Greek intermediary (inconsistently using υ ~ ου) is often to blame. The original (Getica) has y.

  49. I must say I like the horsey etymology of the Sue(h)ones. What speaks in its favour is that the form given by Jordanes is impeccably Gothic (with -ans < *-an-iz) and so looks authentic, and the mention of their “excellent horses”, totally unnecessary in the context, is only explicable if the Swehans were famous in the ancient world chiefly for their bloody good horses (“Ah, those Swehans, the horse guys!”). Whether we really need the Hoffmann suffix there is debatable. An individuating nasal extension could make nouns out of adjectives (in this case a bahuvrihi one, as in the parallel examples from Avestan, Vedic and Greek, which are sufficiently possessive without the Hoffmann suffix), and in Germanic it was a common way of forming ethnic names.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    i ~ y ~ u

    I had no idea! The things I miss by relying on secondary sources that rely on 19th-century editions of primary sources…

  51. My answer to David has disappeared.

    Sorry about that. I just searched and found it in the spam folder, but I didn’t restore it here because it didn’t contain anything you didn’t mention in your later comment.

  52. John Cowan says:

    Have you used squares and circles?

    Circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sayin’ what they was about, to be used in evidence against us.

  53. Crawdad Tom says:

    “Circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sayin’ what they was about, to be used in evidence against us.”

    Perhaps drawn on an envelope? I cannot tell a lie–I put that envelope there.

    Saw him perform that in Berkeley last August.

  54. “Brother-uterine” has not entirely died out – it appears in, of all things, the 1990s BBC sitcom “Red Dwarf”, though the character has to explain it.

    JAKE: Sir, I think you should take a look at this. Billy, meet your
    brother, Sebastian.

    SEBASTIAN and BILLY check out the ID JAKE has found.

    JAKE: Well, half brothers. Uterinal — same mother.

    And “cousin-german” also exists, as well as “brother-german” – meaning a first cousin.

  55. David W. says:

    The Spanish say “hermano” for brother.

    Is there a word for half-brothers with the same father?

  56. John Cowan says:

    Either agnate or consanguine. In the Roman law of inheritance, there was a great distinction between the agnati, or relatives through male lines, and the cognati, or relatives in general, of the deceased; each had a different collection of legal rights. Consanguineous means ‘related by blood’, but for whatever reason (perhaps because they were not normally concerned with any but male-line relatives), common-law countries used consanguine in this limited sense. A consanguine family is one in which brothers and sisters customarily marry, as in ancient Egyptian royalty.

    The extreme form of uterine siblinghood is superfecundation, or twins with different fathers.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    That often involves two separate ( = atavistically unmerged) uteri.

  58. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @David W:

    Is there a word for half-brothers with the same father?

    The OED lists current uses of agnate in that sense, but they’re from the anthropological or legal literature; I doubt the term has any wider currency.

    Spanish has an equivalent to machetonim in consuegros. The same logic also gives concuñado for one’s sibling’s spouse’s sibling. (Cuñado, incidentally, is < L cognatus, the matching pair of the agnatus that gave us the above term.)

  59. @Alon Lischinsky: It’s not that obscure a term, although the noun form is probably a lot less common than the adjective in practice. If I needed, for some reason, to specify that two sons had only their father in common, I would call them “agnatic half-brothers.” There is no comparable term for maternal half-brothers that is a natural part of my vocabulary in the same way.

  60. It’s not that obscure a term, although the noun form is probably a lot less common than the adjective in practice. If I needed, for some reason, to specify that two sons had only their father in common, I would call them “agnatic half-brothers.”

    Your word-hoard is admirable, but I assure you you’re in a small minority. You’d have to interview a lot of English-speakers before you ran across one who had even heard of the word, let alone who could define and use it.

  61. Russian единокровный and единоутробный almost certainly are calques of consanguine and co-uterine from whatever language. Those seem to be ordinary words, ready to be deployed on rare occasions they are required. While looking the details up, I found to my surprise that, according to Russian tradition, people can become blood relatives well after their birth. Namely, if a husband and a wife had children from previous marriages, those children will be relatives-in-low (свойственники), but if now this new marriage produces children of its own all brothers and sisters of the large family become blood relatives even if they do not share any (rare) genes whatsoever.

    Also, Nero Wolfe with his keen observation of the rare word ortho-cousin, which helped in one of his investigations, must be mentioned here.

  62. @languagehat: I don’t think agnatic is an everyday word, but I would have thought it was something that would be familiar to anybody who was involved in genealogy. It seems quite common, actually, in the discussion of the historical genealogies of European royalty, since agnatic primogeniture is such an important principle there.

  63. Oh, sure. I didn’t realize that by “not that obscure a term” you meant among people involved in genealogy. Now it all makes sense.

  64. You want obscure words? Yesterday, I thought about using the word shunamitistically in my writing. I was unsure whether that would be too obscure—and also unsure whether the correct form was actually “shunamitistically” or “shunamistically”—but it turns out that Google has no hits for either of them. Wikipedia has an entry for the base form, “shunamitism,” but the OED does not have the word in any form, so I have not been able to trace its historical frequency.

    So, for the moment, I have left it out of the passage I wrote with Lady Iranice sharing a cot with the wounded king.

  65. I don’t think it’s familiar even to that many people who are involved in genealogy, since most genealogy does not involve European royalty.

  66. David W says:

    Wiktionary gives “enate” as the feminine counterpart of “agnate”.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/enate

  67. David L says:

    I know ‘enate’ only because it’s an example of crosswordese, that is, a word that shows up in crosswords and nowhere else because it has a useful sequence of vowels and consonants. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen ‘agnate’ in a crossword. The sequence VCCVCV is not so unusual, I think. Or maybe just not as handy for crossword-making.

  68. January First-of-May says:

    While looking the details up, I found to my surprise that, according to Russian tradition, people can become blood relatives well after their birth. Namely, if a husband and a wife had children from previous marriages, those children will be relatives-in-low (свойственники), but if now this new marriage produces children of its own all brothers and sisters of the large family become blood relatives even if they do not share any (rare) genes whatsoever.

    This happened to two of my childhood friends: the father of one married the mother of the other and had children. I’ll probably have to ask whether they actually consider themselves blood relatives at some point.

    (Relevant XKCD; the same problem with step-siblings is even more interesting, but less practically relevant.)

    (As a side-note, the Russian term for blood relatives, кровные родственники, sounds like it should mean “roof relatives”, as if “relatives under the same roof”, which might explain this tradition.)

    The word kisiel is still used in Polish but the meaning has changed: today it refers to a sweet dessert made from fruit, thickened with potato starch.

    Same in Russian, I believe.

    My first (and possibly only noticed) encounter with “oatmeal kisel” as a term was in Nosov’s Adventures of Dunno, where Dunno compared the clouds’ consistency to it (and was corrected by other characters). I probably thought it was basically the same thing as the fruit/berry drink, but somehow made from oatmeal instead of fruit.

    I don’t think agnatic is an everyday word

    It’s not exactly an everyday word, but the adjective agnatic seems (to me) far less exotic than the noun agnate.

    Even so, I personally find it most convenient to just perceive agnatic in succession contexts as part of the terminology, without necessarily trying to figure out the actual meaning of the individual word in this context; in other words, as far as I’m concerned, “agnatic primogeniture” is a single term that doesn’t necessarily have to be separated into two words to be understood.

  69. The father of my brother’s girlfriend just used “kaleko” casually today, proving my hypothesis jugding by the slight incomprehension on my brother’s face.

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