2040: Sibling-in-Law

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FYI, it turns out "...because I haven't figured out whether he would be my brother-in-law or not" does NOT qualify as a "reason why these two should not be wed."
Title text: FYI, it turns out "...because I haven't figured out whether he would be my brother-in-law or not" does NOT qualify as a "reason why these two should not be wed."


This comic shows the complicated way that English refers to sibling-in-law family relationships. As shown in the comic, your sibling's spouse would be called your "sibling-in-law" (brother-in-law for male, sister-in-law for female). However, your spouse's sibling is also called the same way.

The confusion lies with your siblings-in-law's siblings. Randall says they may be "also siblings-in-law, I think?" and further relations are also "possible additional siblings-in-law". According to Wikipedia, "sibling-in-law is one's spouse's sibling, or one's sibling's spouse, or one's spouse's sibling's spouse"; therefore Randall would be correct with the "also siblings-in-law" on the right (his 'spouse's sibling's spouse') but would be incorrect regarding the one on the left (his 'sibling's spouse's sibling' would not generally be considering a sibling-in-law). Wiktionary lists a more restrictive definition: siblings-in-law are either "the sibling of one's spouse" or "the spouse of one's sibling". This definition includes only those whom Randall calls siblings-in-law, and none of those he calls "also siblings-in-law, I think?". The spouse of the sibling of one's spouse or the sibling of the spouse of one's sibling are to be referred as co-siblings-in-law. If anything, this shows that the definition of a sibling-in-law is loose, justifying the "I think ?" sentence of the comic. Many families also use the term "out-law" to jokingly refer to the distant sibling+spouses which Randall seems uncertain about.

The caption compares "sibling-in-law" to "<X>th cousin <Y> times removed". This family relationship, for example, 1st cousin once removed, is used to describe your 1st cousin's child or the first cousin of one of your parents. The "once removed" indicates that the family relative is one generation above or below yours.

The title text describes a scenario in a traditional wedding in most English-speaking regions. Prior to the wedding being completed, the officiant will provide a final opportunity for anyone in the audience to speak a reason to object to the wedding. This intended for reasons why they cannot lawfully be wed -- such as that one of the participants is already married to someone else or is too young to marry, that the couple are so closely related that the marriage would be incestuous, or that the marriage license is expired -- or other serious emergencies -- such as evidence of infidelity (sexual or otherwise) that might change one of the participants' minds about their continued commitment to their spouse-to-be. In movies and fiction, this is usually a dramatic moment used for the climax of a critical scene. Regardless, it is an incredibly serious objection to raise, and should not be done so lightly. However, the title text describes a confusing and mundane scenario where the only reason the speaker is objecting to the wedding is because they're unsure whether the marriage would make one of the participants their brother-in-law and thus wouldn't know what to call the groom after the wedding. In order to avoid their own confusion, they attempted to stop the wedding altogether. The officiator rightly ruled that this objection was neither just cause to object nor a reason that the wedding would be unlawful, and is therefore no reason the couple should be prevented from their own chance at wedded bliss.

Since the title text begins with a FYI (for your information) it is implied that Randall has actually tried to stop a wedding using that reason and has been overruled, and thus he wishes to help others avoid that socially-awkward experience.


[A single layer of a family tree with 15 people depicted as sticky figures side by side is shown. They are connected alternated either by a bracket on top or a short line between them. The four outermost figures on each side are faded out in gray.]
[In the middle is Cueball and from below an arrow points at him:]
[To the left Ponytail is connected by a bracket and the arrow below says:]
[To the right of Cueball Megan is shown connected by a small line, an arrow below her reads:]
[Further to the left and the right the next figures have an arrow below with the nested text:]
[The next connected figures on both sides are drawn with two other wider arrows embedding this statement:]
Also siblings-in-law, I think?
[All remaining figures left and right have similar arrows below and the text is:]
Possible additional siblings-in-law???
[Caption below the frame:]
People complain that “<X>th cousin <Y> times removed” is hard to understand, but to me the most confusing one is sibling-in-law, because it chains across both sibling and marriage links and I don't really know where it stops.

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Unless you want to go completely nuts on this topic, avoid reading Jane Austen, where the the term "X-in-law" is used to mean, roughly, "someone to whom you are related for legal reasons". It can be used to refer to, for example, what we today might refer to as step/half-siblings, adopted siblings, etc. Arcanechili (talk) 15:51, 31 August 2018 (UTC)

> The title text refers to incestual relationships, which are generally frowned upon in Western culture. How on earth this refers to incest if persons are only legally, not genetically related??? It's just that Randall doesn't know how to call new relatives but cannot stop their arrival. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yes, I also don't think it refers to incest. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Sometimes (or to some people), marital relationships are relevant to incest. Marrying your brother's widow can be forbidden, acceptable, or required. Or, is it acceptable to marry your ex-wife's adopted child? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I'm not sure if that is right or not, but that was my interpretation of that text, based on the "a reason why these two should not be wed." Unless there is a different issue with this, also involving marriage? 16:44, 31 August 2018 (UTC)
I read the title text as... the reason he is objecting has nothing to do with the couple getting married, it's simply the selfish reason that Randall doesn't want the confusion of having to figure out what to call the new extended-family members. -boB (talk) 17:37, 31 August 2018 (UTC)
Note that he states this reason ISN'T acceptable, in other words nobody else finds it's sufficient reason to stop the marriage. If there was some incest aspect, anybody would accept it as a reason. The objection as stated is simply out of (in)convenience to Cueball/Randall. NiceGuy1 (talk) 12:58, 4 September 2018 (UTC)

Somehow I don't have this problem whatsoever...as I'm a single child who married a single child. I have zero siblings-in-law. In fact, my future kids won't even have (regular) cousins... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Am I the only one that thinks there's an error in this comic? Shouldn't spouse's sibling be the sibling-in-law of Cueball's *sibling*? But then, maybe I'm also making Randall's point... Sspenser (talk) 18:28, 31 August 2018 (UTC)

^ Sspenser I honestly think this is a poorly constructed diagram because it invites this type of confusion -- I was also tripped up at first, but I think all relationships are meant to be labeled *with respect to "Me"/cueball*. My initial assumption was that each double-headed arrow was intending to label *pairs* of siblings-in-law; in fact I think it is trying to label individuals who are each independently siblings-in-law of cueball's (or assumed siblings-in-law of cueball's). The different double-headed arrows represent different levels of confidence in claiming this relationship between Cueball and the individuals in that "layer." I think it would have been more clear if he kept the arrows basically the same, but labeled as "*My* Siblings-in-law"/"Also *My* Siblings-in-law, I think?"/etc. ~clukes 00:28, 1 September 2018 (UTC)

I was initially confused by the black border surrounding the image, which connects the heredity lines of all the people in the chart as if they shared a parent by different matings. This image really ought not to have a border the same color as the chart lines... ProphetZarquon (talk) 01:21, 1 September 2018 (UTC)

The Russian language actually has different words for both "types" of brothers in-law (spouse's brother vs. sister's husband), also for parents and children in-law on either side: https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Свойство_(родство) . But all these in-law distinctions are based on the respective spouse's sex, so it won't work for same-sex marriages. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

In German, they even have a word for "spouse of sibling in-law" and similar situations: "Schwippschwager" https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwippschwager Polyfier (talk) 23:41, 31 August 2018 (UTC)

The way this is defined, you and your spouse both have the same set of siblings and siblings-in-law. In other words, if someone is your spouse's sibling or sibling in law then that person is your sibling in law if that person is not your sibling. The relationship chains across a maximum of one sibling relationship. Probably not Douglas Hofstadter (talk) 18:56, 31 August 2018 (UTC)

Off topic but I can't resist:

DARK HELMET: I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former room-mate.
LONE STARR: What's that make us?
DARK HELMET: Absolutely nothing....

Spaceballs (1987) parody Star Wars --Dgbrt (talk) 19:51, 31 August 2018 (UTC)

Thank you for writing it out, I keep meaning to check what he says, to track the relationship, but whenever I'm watching I'm too busy enjoying the movie, LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 12:58, 4 September 2018 (UTC)
Check for example this: Spaceballs Dialogue. And Mel Brooks really thinks about a sequel after thirty years: Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money. Which will bring more "Moichandising! Moichandising! Where the real money from the movie is made." --Dgbrt (talk) 15:15, 4 September 2018 (UTC)

Anyone else think this comic is a form of "Wedding Gift" Randal is giving to a sibling who's getting married (presumably today)? -- JamesCurran (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

People actually complain cousins removed is hard to understand? When I first learned about it, my thought was actually: Wow, that is so much clearer than what we use in Dutch. In Dutch we use a prefix for each step its is removed so it can get wordy. A cousin would be "neef" a cousin once removed would be "achterneef" a 2nd cousin "achterachterneef". I think a 2nd cousin removed would then be "achterachterachterneef" and third cousins "achterachterachterachterneef". I'm not even sure that's how confusing it is. The English system is easy. Simply count up to the common ancestor (A), then down to the relative (R). Then you're (R-2)th cousins (A-R) times removed. Fun fact, your siblings are your zeroth cousins and you are your own negative first cousin. Tharkon (talk) 22:32, 31 August 2018 (UTC)

That is awesome & I'm totally using it from now on; except I'm going to call anyone 2nd cousin or beyond "altachterneef" & see how long it takes for a Dutch-speaker to give me a quizzical look. ProphetZarquon (talk) 01:21, 1 September 2018 (UTC)
I find what's weird about Dutch is that "nephew" and "male cousin" are the same word (and the same with females). I'm pretty sure that's why my mother sometimes mixes up whether to use "cousin" or "nephew" in English. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 12:58, 4 September 2018 (UTC)
Many Dutch speakers would probably find it weird that English uses the same word for female and male cousins. But yeah it is a little odd that in one case, you are the "neef" (cousin) of your "neef" (cousin) but in another case you are the "oom" (uncle) of your "neef" (nephew). Also, we don't have a word for sibling. Tharkon (talk) 12:25, 8 September 2018 (UTC)

Sooo... Maybe you can help me with this: My half-sister from my Mother's first marriage has 3 half-sisters from her Father's second marriage. My half-sister adopted her youngest half-sister, becoming her legal guardian or "parent". So is that person my niece? Half-sister? Half-sister in-law? Sister? Half-sister's half-sister? Half-sister's daughter in-law? Niece in-law once removed? None? ProphetZarquon (talk) 01:21, 1 September 2018 (UTC)

She's your adopted half-niece. She had no named relationship to you prior to adoption. LtPowers (talk) 12:49, 1 September 2018 (UTC)
That sounds about right! We all refer to each other as brother & sisters though. ProphetZarquon (talk) 15:35, 2 September 2018 (UTC)

I've never heard of a spouse's sibling's spouse being called your sibling-in-law before. That usage seems weird to me. But then, none of my siblings or siblings-in-law are married. LtPowers (talk) 12:50, 1 September 2018 (UTC)

Ray Steven's song

If he thinks that's confusing, he should follow Ray Steven's I'm My Own Grandpa song. 14:12, 1 September 2018 (UTC)

Actually by Oscar and Lonzo. Ray Stevens just covered it. -boB (talk) 14:32, 4 September 2018 (UTC)
When I was growing up, I did know some kids where the younger one was claimed as the other's uncle... ProphetZarquon (talk) 15:35, 2 September 2018 (UTC)
It is pretty common in large families where the aunt/uncle is younger than the nephew/niece. A person (P1) gets married at 18 and has a child (C1) the next year who also gets married at 18 and has a child (C2) the next year. P1 is only 40 years old and now has a child (C3). C3 is the aunt/uncle of C2 even though C2 is older. C1 and C3 are siblings 22 years apart. Definitely happens. In fact, my oldest brother's daughter is only 5 years younger than my youngest brother. Even I am closer in age to that niece than I am to her father, my brother. Rtanenbaum (talk) 17:03, 4 September 2018 (UTC)
I sing that at karaoke sometimes, I think I was introduced to it from The Muppet Show. What bugs me about that song is that the title is explained in the first few lines, the rest is just other weird stuff about the whole relationship. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 12:58, 4 September 2018 (UTC)
Zaphod Beeblebrox character

Zaphod is described as a "semi-half-cousin" of Ford Prefect, with whom he "shares three of the same mothers". Because of "an accident with a contraceptive and a time machine", his direct ancestors from his father are also his direct descendants. He has referred to himself as Zaphod Beeblebrox the First, but is called Zaphod Beeblebrox the Nothingth by his great-grandfather.

ProphetZarquon (talk) 15:35, 2 September 2018 (UTC)

Accidentally deleted yesterday, sorry for that: --Dgbrt (talk) 16:11, 1 September 2018 (UTC)

The Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries both give a simple list of people who can be considered a sibling-in-law. Your sibling's spouse, your spouse's sibling, and your spouse's sibling's spouse. It does not include your sibling's spouse's siblings. So the questionable "sibling-in-law" on the left is not a sibling-in-law, while the one on the right is. Why does two marriage and a sibling relationship count for more than two sibling and a marriage relationship? Because married people generally spend a lot of adult time together, while siblings gradually drift apart. A cause to gather siblings can easily sweep multiple spouses into the gathering, while a cause to gather one side of the family only rarely gathers the other side. These differences become more pronounced in with large numbers of siblings.

I'm just noting, I looked at Wikipedia, and the best I can find as a solution to it, starting at "Also siblings-in-law, I think?" are "First Cousins-in-law", and the numbers increase as they radiate out. -- 07:33, 2 September 2018 (UTC)

Um, the description of the title text seems to have a lot of supposition in it. All it really says is that the reason isn't good enough - not that anyone actually tried it, was shot down etc, or even that it refers to banns. My reading of it before I came here was actually similar to the incest train of thought, where not having that relationship clarified could cause issues down the road in regards to inheritance, future marriages etc. Also, 'traditional wedding in most English-speaking regions' isn't entirely accurate - banns are generally a Christian thing, sure, but Christianity extends to non-English-speaking areas as well and has done for quite some time, and a requirement for notice and swearing that no legal impediments to the marriage exist are now part of many secular, legal processes for marriage (e.g. part of the process of obtaining a licence, or via registration of intent). I'd recommend this be changed to something a little less interpretative. e.g: "The title text states that not knowing whether a marriage would create an in-law relationship between one of the parties and a third person doesn't constitute an objection to a marriage significant enough to stop it from happening. The phrase "reason why these two should not be wed" comes from the historical practice of announcing a marriage in advance so that people could raise any objections - such as one of the parties already being married - prior to the wedding. This process is now often handled by notice requirements or a signed declaration by the parties that no impediment exists." (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I don't know if the objection part of the wedding ceremony exists only in christian rites -I doubt it-, but in christianity it's quite specific to the anglican rite (never heard of it anywhere else) so I would say that "English-speaking" is quite accurate here.
In-law are awefully (intended) simple : exactly one marital and one blood link. I fail to understand how anyone could possibly be confused by that. 13:34, 3 September 2018 (UTC)
Sorry, the title text IS essentially saying that Randall / Cueball tried this objection, that trying it is how he found out the reason is unacceptable. It's not really interpretive, it's implied so strongly it's just about declared outright. It's a standard method of comedy in the English language, painting a humourous scene by describing the result. NiceGuy1 (talk) 12:58, 4 September 2018 (UTC)

I always use the term "out-laws" for a connection that would be defined by multiple in-law relationships. 12:10, 4 September 2018 (UTC)

I am born with 3 countries, and that is scary because my relatives count could easily reach to around 1k to even 10k. My relatives count is even the highest in my college course that I am in. It is hard to even remember their names and faces, I tell you that.Boeing-787lover 07:25, 6 October 2018 (UTC) -- Xkcdreader52 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)