All in the family? Not descriptively …

Entering a subway car on a recent morning commute, I spotted Tovi — the 8-year-old son of my ex-husband (and half-brother to my daughters) — in a gaggle of school-children embarking on a field trip. Tovi, delighted to see a familiar face and eager to introduce his fellow trip-mates and chaperones to me, tugged on his teacher’s sleeve to get her attention. Pointing at me and using his best public voice, he declared proudly: “You know my sister? Well – that’s her mother!” You could see consternation and confusion knotting the brows of our fellow subway riders as they tried to work through this familial conundrum, giving way to amused smiles of understanding as the logic eventually sank in.

In this day and age of widespread divorce, remarriage, blended and not-so-blended families, children born out-of-wedlock etc., it’s curious that we haven’t yet found a word or expression to describe this increasingly common relationship: the one between kids and their parents’ erstwhile partners. “The son of my ex-husband and his second wife” is excruciatingly long-winded; all credit to Tovi for explaining our connection so succinctly. Why not invent a “divboy”, a “sibmom”, or a “momexdude”? Does divorce create such a divide that it’s even linguistically unbreachable?

A friend recently pointed out that we also lack words to describe the combo of niece(s) and nephew(s) — or aunt(s) and uncle(s) — when we’re referring to a collection or pairing of both. After all, we can identify effortlessly — regardless of their genders — a collection of our children (and grandchildren etc.), siblings, parents (and grandparents), cousins (the singular of which is curiously gender-neutral), and even our in-laws. But when my mother’s sister and her husband pay a visit, we have to identify each separately, rather than use a deft “unt” or “ancle” to capture the pair. Woe to anyone who has multiple nieces and nephews — at least when trying to identify them as a group. Why is this group of relatives with whom we’re connected through our parents so descriptively under-served?



1 thought on “All in the family? Not descriptively …

  1. Barrie England

    Some other languages have a raft of names for members of the extended family. We’d have to turn to the social anthropologists to tell us why English hasn’t.


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