Feb 14, 2024 - World

Axios Finish Line: A word for "my kid's in-laws"

Illustration of a minimalist style family tree showing a married couple and lines for each of their parents, with one set of parents circled and question marks all around.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In other languages, there's one word describing "the parents of your child's spouse" — not so much in English.

Why it matters: Having a specific word for a relationship underlines a special connection.

Details: For example, the Spanish word consuegros (pronounced "cone-sway-gross") and the Yiddish term machatunim (pronounced "mah-cha-tuh-num," with the "cha" like a throat-clearing sound) are quick ways to refer to your child's in-laws.

  • Both words were highlighted by Axios Finish Line readers as favorite "untranslatable words."

Flashback: "If you were learning English like 800 years ago, you would be encountering the same kind of super-specific family words," says Cindy Blanco, a senior learning scientist at Duolingo and former college Spanish teacher.

  • For example, before about the year 1300, there were separate words in English for your father's sister (fathu) and your mother's sister (mōdrige), Blanco tells Axios.
  • But these days, English and many other European languages don't have an extensive number of family terms, she says.

Zoom out: In the U.S. today, it's not unusual to raise families away from in-laws, or for people to be married without their parents knowing each other well.

  • "If you're just seeing them once a year, you probably don't need a special word for them," Blanco says.

What they're saying: "To me, [machatunim] denotes what can be a special relationship between a couple's parents," Finish Line reader Nancy Pearlman tells Axios.

  • Pearlman has two married sons, and a "mutual, caring, open relationship" with their in-laws (who aren't Jewish).
  • To her, it makes sense to have a word to describe this unique, forever connection that starts in late adulthood with people her kids chose.
  • And if grandkids enter the picture, "the relationship we have with our machatunim will deepen [and] be more loving… because we'll be sharing these people."

What we're watching: Although there aren't English words for consuegros or machatunim, other familial terms have been introduced or revived over the years.

  • One word you may have seen recently: nibling.
  • It's the gender-neutral way to say "niece" or "nephew."

Go deeper: Here's the last "untranslatable word" we covered

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