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In a world where gender identity notation is important, we need gender-neutral words to refer to relatives. "Spouse," "sibling," and "nibling" (niece or nephew) are the only ones I know. Are there others? Should we invent some?

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  • "Parent" for mother or father. Also grandparent, great-grandparent, ... But "nibling" is not (yet) a dictionary word. Of course "cousin" is gender-neutral.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 9, 2020 at 19:34
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    Why do we need new gender-neutral words to refer to relatives? Are you taking the politics too far? The point about gender-neutral words is that we apply them because people might not want us to make assumptions. How does that apply to relatives, who we know? Should I refer to my children as "snaughter" or "don" because I don't want to offend their feelings? That sort of thing has been tried, and I believe it confuses more children than those who will become confused by their apparent gender. Jul 9, 2020 at 19:57
  • Moreover, sibling isn't a gender-neutral word per se – it is a collective term like parent. I don't address my brother as 'sibling' (although if they asked me to I would). I might use it in the singular to describe a relative to someone else without disclosing which particular relative. Jul 9, 2020 at 20:58
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    Nibling sounds like a recently invented idiocy. Jul 9, 2020 at 21:35
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    What world are you referring to? And who needs this? Please just ask your question without making a political statement. And questions of the type “should we” all invite subjective answers, and so are off-topic here.
    – David
    Jul 9, 2020 at 22:32

1 Answer 1

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Travelling upwards in your family tree:

  • Mother/Father: Parent
  • Grandmother/Grandfather: Grandparent
  • Continually add "great" as you travel more upwards: great grandparent, great great grandparent, etc.

Travelling downwards in your family tree:

  • Son/Daughter: Child
  • Grandson/Granddaughter: Grandchild
  • Continually add "great" as you travel more downwards: great grandchild, great great grandchild, etc.

Travelling otherwise in your family tree:

  • Niece/Nephew: No current English word exists, "nibling" is an emerging term, but would still be considered slang at this stage. Not a single-word, but a phrase could be "parent's sibling's child."
  • Aunt/Uncle: No current English word exists, "pibling" is a term that is beginning to be tossed around, but seems to not be as accepted as "nibling." Interestingly, the linguist who coined "nibling" did not offer a gender-neutral term for aunt/uncle. Not a single-word, but a phrase could be "parent's sibling."
  • Cousin: already gender neutral
  • Husband/Wife: spouse
  • Brother/Sister: sibling

Currently in English the usage of the non-gender-specific usage of these words could be considered a more tense language than their gender-specific versions, if the speaker is referring to a single relative. For example, referring to your brother as "sibling" instead of "brother" would seem more tense, whereas if you were referring to all of your, say five, siblings, using the term "siblings" rather than "brothers and sisters" would not come off as tense, but would be more formal.

Alongside the tense/formal aspect, in day-to-say speech it is overall more common that the gender-neutral terms are used in a plural sense to refer to a group. "I love visiting with all of my siblings when I'm in town," is much more common than, "I love visiting with my sibling."

It is odd to me that aunt/uncle and niece/nephew are the only familial relationship words in English that don't have a gender-neutral variant, but I believe it is simply due to the etymology of the words.

Parent can be traced to the Latin parire, meaning "bring forth, give birth to, produce."

Cousin can be traced to the Latin com, meaning "with, together", and soror meaning sister, and could essentially be described as "sister on mother's side." I am unsure why cousin went from female-specific in Latin to neutral in English, perhaps it is due to the same reasoning that English uses "mother/sister/daughter" as relationship-describing adjectives ("sister company").

Aunt/uncle and niece/nephew were already specific to gender in Latin, and they continued to stay as such in English.

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    The gender-neutral phrases you've suggested seem to be a bit off. Your parent's sibling is your aunt/uncle (not niece/nephew). Your parent's sibling's child is your cousin (not your aunt/uncle).
    – Juhasz
    Jul 9, 2020 at 20:28
  • @Juhasz Whoops, I have corrected the mismatch.
    – Tyler N
    Jul 10, 2020 at 14:46
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    No gender-neutral one-word expression for the second child of the third cousin of one's maternal great-aunt? Unbelievable!
    – oerkelens
    Jul 10, 2020 at 14:55

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