Sorting the In-Laws

2011-01-08 15:12


The diagram shows three siblings and all of their spouses, and those spouses’ siblings in turn.

What is Adam’s relationship to George? And how is that different from his relationship to Larry? In conventional parlance, both would be called his “brother-in-law.” Now, all in-law relationships involve one blood bond (a sibling) and one marriage bond (a spouse). The difference in Adam’s relationships to George and to Larry is that in the former case the blood bond is near to him, and in the latter it is far from him.

So: George is Adam’s brother-near-in-law, and Larry is his brother-far-in-law.

These relationships are explicitly not commutative. Because George is Adam’s brother-near-in-law, Adam is perforce George’s brother-far-in-law.

Relationships that traverse three bonds would also likely be called “in-laws” in common parlence. For example, what is Nick to Adam? In my proposal, he becomes the brother of Helen, Adam’s sister-near-in-law.

How about still more distant relationships? Between Nick and Mary one encounters five bonds: three of blood and two of marriage. So from Nick’s point of view, Mary is the sister of George, my brother-near-in-law Carl’s brother-near-in-law.