Of the following family relationships, which one stands out from the rest:
The answer, of course, is cousin. Of all the family relationships, including those forged by marriage, it’s the only term that doesn’t describe the sex of the relative.
Of course, grandparent, parent, child and sibling don’t describe the sex either, but each of these terms is the unisex form of one that does so.
It doesn’t really seem like a problem, but that’s probably just because we don’t know what it’s like to have access to the proper tools. Removing sister and brother from our vocabulary would seem like a massive hindrance, but this is exactly the limitation we face when describing the children of our aunts and uncles.
Once we begin to contemplate these issues, we also realize that there are other gaps in our language. There is no unisex form of aunt and uncle, and though the term nibling has been created in order to describe both nieces and nephews, it hasn’t really caught on.
It’s not clear why people don’t use nibling. Perhaps it just needs to be publicized in a popular book, blog or magazine. But if we’re going to start filling in the missing words, let’s just complete the whole set.
1. the sibling of a parent.
1. the son of an auntle.
1. the daughter of an auntle.