My Family In Other Words.

The English language is inadequate for the job of describing certain family relationships, and it’s about time we coined the missing words. I love my nieces and nephews, and with the tenth one on the way very soon, I want to be able to say that she will be my fourth niece, and my tenth … what? I want a word that embraces both nieces and nephews. Do other languages have something that could be appropriated? Are they niephs? niecews? In the same way, I could find good use for words that describe, accurately, how many aunties and uncles the new arrival will have.

There is no category name for aunts and uncles. Equally inconveniently, there is no distinction between an aunt who is the sister of a parent, and an aunt who is married to the brother of a parent. Similarly, there is no distinction between an uncle who is the brother of a parent, and an uncle who is married to the sister of a parent. This irks me. I want specificity. I want a word that makes clear that my ‘aunt’ is my mum’s sister, my dad’s sister, my dad’s brother’s wife, or my mum’s brother’s wife. I want words that specify, as well as words that embrace and include.

Right now, I have three nieces, and six nephews. So far, so specific, I can distinguish them by gender, but sometimes I would like to dip into the language and say how many of them are blood relatives, and how many are related to me by my marriage. Not because it matters, but because there could be a word, where there is none. I want that word.

I want to be able to talk about my sister-in-law in a way that precisely conveys that I am referring to my husband’s sister, and not my brother’s wife (or vice-versa). I would love to use a word that describes the relationship between a group of people who are married to siblings. Me, and the spouses of my husband’s two siblings. The three of us are a group, with a certain family tie, yet there is no title that recognises the relationship that we share. We have the same parents-in-law, the same nephews and nieces, but within the family there is no word that recognises our group self in relation to each other, rather than to someone else. It would be useful.

I have many cousins. I could tell you, with absolute precision, whether that cousin was a half-second cousin twice removed, or a double third cousin once removed. I love that I can do that, but would love it even more if there were different words for different cousinships. It would be satisfying to be able to indicate, with one word, whether a ‘removed’ cousin was from a generation before or after mine. I hate that I have to specify that the cousin is male or female. In French, you can just add an ‘e’ to the end of the word, to tell the whole tale.

And, of course, I haven’t even mentioned the glorious specificity we could get into by distinguishing between first and subsequent marriages, and the relationships that accrue from them. There is space in our wonderful language for lots of new words. Any ideas?

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