Beautiful Ambiguity

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One of the most charming things about French family life is the way one expresses both the “step” and “in-law” relationships. In English, we use the prefix “step” to denote that a relationship has been created by the marriage or coupling of a new, non-biologically-related person with one’s parent. For example, your stepfather is the man who marries or co-habits with your mother after the end of her relationship with your father. Stepbrothers and stepsisters are pre-existing children that come into the family because of this new couple. Think of The Brady Bunch: Mike was Marcia, Jan, and Cindy’s stepfather; Carol was Greg, Peter, and Bobby’s stepmother; the girls were the boys’ stepsisters; and the boys were the girls’ stepbrothers. Conceivably, one could extend the prefix to other family members, as well. We use the suffix “-in-law,” however, to describe the relatives of one’s spouse. For example, your father-in-law is the father of your husband, and your sister-in-law is his sister. Again, one could use the suffix for extended family members as well.

Fairly clear and straightforward, right?

For an anglophone, though, the French way of describing these relationships can seem quite confusing. Continue reading Beautiful Ambiguity