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I may be going out on a pragmatic/cultural limb here, but is there an asymmetry in the commonly accepted practice of referring to your uncle's wife as "aunt" but not referring to your nephew's wife as "niece".

If so, why is there an asymmetry? Deference to the older generation within a family? Is the spouse of a nephew/niece seem as less part of the family?

  • Niece has an interesting etymology since it was used at one point or another to refer to: "A female relative, esp. a cousin", "A granddaughter, or more remote female descendant", "A male relative, esp. a nephew" (OED). Only the last one seems to be still in use today, although it's restricted to African-American use. – Laurel Nov 29 '18 at 20:35
  • Literally off the cuff I feel it is part age related as when young we are "given" names to use such as Aunt This or Uncle That. However as we become Aunts and Uncles ourselves we tend to say my nephews second partner who became my niece in law, or so much simpler by their first name. – KJO Nov 29 '18 at 20:42
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    I would think this is obvious: the "aunt" was there ever since you were born. The nephew's wife is a new addition that takes some time getting used to. – michael.hor257k Nov 29 '18 at 21:16
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    It’s an interesting observation. Aunts and uncles are either blood relatives (parent’s siblings) or the spouses of those selfsame blood relatives; but nephews and nieces are only blood relatives. It’s like that at least in most Western European languages as far as I can think, so it’s not just a case of English being asymmetrical. I’m not sure there’s any way to conclusively answer why this is so, though. History ended up with the words being used like that. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 29 '18 at 21:17
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    I suggest that’s purely about culture and community, not English in particular nor even language in general I know so many people who always refer to nephews’ wives as “nieces”, anything else would seem rather perverse, at least outside official documents. Isn't this more about family customs? – Robbie Goodwin Nov 29 '18 at 22:39

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