Wednesday, April 06, 2011


"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl - no superior alternative has yet been found.” -- Winston Churchill

"When a parent gives to a child, both laugh; when a child gives to a parent, both cry." -- Shakespeare (paraphrased)

Family! It's a word that makes some people shudder, and others feel warm inside. But oddly enough, it's a relatively recent concept in English.

Among the Anglo-Saxons, there was no word that meant "family". Most often they used hiwscipe, which meant something closer to "household": it included the husband, wife, children, servants, slaves, pets, animals, buildings, and lands. It was centered unambiguously on the husband, who was legally in charge of it all. In the 1500's, however, the Latin-derived word family (which came from familia, "servants") became widely used to mean everyone in the household. By the 1660's the meaning of family had been changed to referring to primarily those people connected by blood.

Even today, family is a vague term, at its edges. Depending on context, it could refer to the whole human race (the "human family") or to a single pair of unmarried adults (and their dog). At its core, though, is a special notion of intimate kinship between souls that perhaps not even death can sunder.

“Writers will happen in the best of families.” -- Rosa Mae Brown

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