Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Poll: Defining In-Laws

with 5 comments

Defining who’s an in-law seems pretty straight forward, right? We all know who our mother-in-law is — it’s our spouse’s mother.*

But what about a brother-in-law?

I got in a discussion a little while ago about the definition of brothers- and sisters-in-law. And it seems that standards for what qualifies someone  varies.

A fair number of people I’ve spoken to say the title of brother-in-law only applies to your sister’s husband or your spouse’s brother.

Others say that your spouse’s sister’s husband also qualifies.

But don’t look it up!

I want to know what your natural understanding is. What your practical definition is for how you’d really use it.

*Additional attributes that may indicate or define a mother-in-law are up for debate and may be inappropriate for children.

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Written by Nathanael Green

August 14, 2009 at 7:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. I’ve never known what to call the father of my nephew who does not happen to be my sister’s husband either.

    Out-law doesn’t sound quite right…

    Seana

    August 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    • It’s an interesting question regarding names for different relatives. Especially since I know that some languages have names for relationships that we can only describe through a number of words.

      Nathanael Green

      August 16, 2009 at 3:14 pm

      • In some ways it doesn’t matter. But I think that cultures that have precise names for extended familial relations also have some sense of what what those roles entail–and don’t entail–which may help everyone figure out what the obligations between different people are a little more easily.

        Seana

        August 17, 2009 at 12:20 am

        • That’s a good point, Seana. I think how we define our roles and obligations are reflected in the vocabulary we use. If there’s a definite word for those extended relations, there’s a good chance it’s got some hefty significance in the culture that we don’t have. Makes me wonder whether the vocabulary has a role in reinforcing those ideas then.

          Nathanael Green

          August 19, 2009 at 8:44 pm

  2. By the way … dictionary.com defines it this way:

    –noun, plural broth⋅ers-in-law.
    1. the brother of one’s husband or wife.
    2. the husband of one’s sister.
    3. the husband of one’s wife’s or husband’s sister.

    All the dictionaries I checked define it this way. Interesting that the popular understanding seems to exclude the third definition.

    Nathanael Green

    August 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm


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