Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Word of the Month: Die Schwippschwägerin, der Schwippschwager

Word of the Month: Index

If you are married and your spouse has a sister, it's your sister-in-law; if it's a brother, it's your brother-in-law. The Germans have single words for these relations, Schwägerin and Schwager, respectively (I won't go into the etymology). So far, so good. But what about the relationship your marriage establishes between your brothers or sisters and your brothers- or sisters-in-law, i.e. between your siblings and your spouse's siblings? I'm not aware of an English term expressing that relationship—well, the Wiktionary has "co-sister-" or "co-brother-in-law", but I swear, I have never heard these terms used in common speech, or seen them used in literature, for that matter.

The Germans, of course, have terms for these relationships: Schwippschwägerin and Schwippschwager: They simply prefix Schwägerin or Schwager with Schwippe (the flexible end of a whip or fishing rod), shorn of its final e (to ease pronunciation), and bingo! you have the relationship expressed in a compound noun (see the top diagram on the left). Note that the terms can also be used to express the relationships between the spouses of siblings (second diagram on the left). In my family, though, we drop the Schwipp in these cases: My brothers' wives call my wife simply Schwägerin and vice-versa.

Why use Schwipp(e) to coin the term anyway? One source suggests it's because the relationship can be flipped; i.e. it works in both directions, from the wife's siblings to those of her husband and vice versa [Bastian Sick, Oct 23, 2015]. A cynic may suggest, in contrast, that it's because a Schwippschwägerin and a Schwippschwager find themselves caught in new relationships without having given their consent (just kidding!).