When I was a student (over fifty years ago) I had a landlady who used to talk about her 'aunt-by-law'. I wish I had been bold enough to ask her the nature of the relationship, but I have always assumed it was either her husband's aunt, or the wife of one of her parent's brothers.

Has anyone else ever heard the term by-law, used and is it synonymous with in-law?

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    I have never heard the expression, and I can't find it in the OED. – Colin Fine Jun 21 '14 at 23:02
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    I found an excerpt which cites unle-by-law, aunt-by-law and explains the relationship! – Mari-Lou A Jun 22 '14 at 5:11
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    @Mari-LouA Well done! It took an Italian scholar and it seems an Italian search to find it! I will now adopt Italy as my team to win the World Cup! – WS2 Jun 22 '14 at 9:37
  • An aunt by-law is a by-law issued by a country club forbidding you to let your aunt onto the golf course. – Blessed Geek Jun 22 '14 at 10:11
  • @BlessedGeek But that is only because you missed the hyphen after 'aunt'. – WS2 Jun 22 '14 at 10:22

An aunt-by-law would be the wife of one of one’s parents’ siblings. You share no blood with that woman, but she has married your uncle.

I suppose you could call her an aunt-in-law, but that sounds rather odd. Normally one’s in-laws are those new family members created by one’s own marriage, not someone else’s.

We never made a distinction between by-blood and by-law uncles and aunts growing up, although of course you were always aware of it.

Then there’s the old phenomenon of an uncle-by-courtesy, which is something else again. Now it’s simply an honorific for someone older than you whom you would not address by their first name, but who is a family friend, likely of your parents’.

  • Aunt or uncle-by-marriage I think would be the usual term. But only this one individual do I ever remember saying aunt-by-law. I do think it sounds more inclusive to leave out the in-law or by-law altogether, particularly as regards nieces and nephews. Some people will refer to 'my husband's niece' or 'my wife's nephew'. As one who is an only child with a wife who was one of five, I am always glad to call my wife's many nieces and nephews as though they were my own, especially since I am not blessed with any myself. – WS2 Jun 21 '14 at 22:57
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    I disagree that "normally one's in-laws are those new family members created by one's own marriage, not someone else's". It is quite usual to refer to your sister's husband or brother's wife as your brother-in-law, or sister-in-law. – tobyink Jun 22 '14 at 10:46

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