Happy birthday to yous

Three members of my extended family celebrate their birthday today. They are not genetically related to each other (there is one ‘in-law’ between each of them) and only one is genetically related to me. The first, chronologically, is my brother-in-law, my oldest sister’s husband. The second is his sister-in-law – not either of the two who are my sisters, but his brother’s wife. There is no term in English for my relationship to her; she is ‘my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law’. I have met her occasionally, and am Facebook friends with her, but it is perfectly possible never to meet one’s brother-in-law’s sister-in-law. I have not met my youngest sister’s husband’s brother’s wife (and they live in the same part of the same city as me). The third is my niece, my second sister’s daughter. She is that brother-in-law’s wife’s niece, niece-in-law or maybe just niece; he is her aunt’s husband, uncle-in-law or just uncle. (She calls him ‘Uncle [name]’ just as she calls me ‘Uncle [name]’.) There is no term in English for her relationship with that other relative: they are ‘uncle-in-law’s sister-in-law’ and ‘brother-in-law’s niece-in-law’ respectively. Maybe some languages have a kinship term for ‘female relative one generation older (other than mother or aunt’ (or simply use the word ‘aunt’) and ‘female relative one generation younger, other than daughter or niece’ (or simply use the word ‘niece’). These three members of my extended family have been in the same place twice, as far as I know: my oldest nephew’s and my oldest niece’s weddings (the son and daughter, the cousins and the nephew- and niece-in-law of those three people). My nephew’s wedding was a few days before those people’s collective birthday, so the next day many of the same people gathered again for his birthday. We got those three birthday people together for, as far as I know, the only photo of the three of them (though they might all be in an ‘extended family’ wedding photo).

So, my oldest nephew and niece are married (to other people, of course!). I usually refer to my niece’s husband as my nephew-in-law, because I have a less close relationship with him, but I usually refer to my nephew’s wife as my niece, because I have a closer relationship with her. But it does cause confusion. Sixteen months ago I told a colleague that my nephew and niece had just had a baby. She asked for clarification!

How far does one’s ‘extended family’ extend? I know who my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law’s [second] cousin’s step-mother is, but I wouldn’t call her ‘family’. (By the way, I’ve got two or three sets of brothers-in-law: my sisters’ husbands (three sisters, one husband each), who are ‘my Australian brothers-in-law’, my wife’s brothers (one wife, two brothers), who are ‘my Korean brothers-in-law’, and maybe my wife’s sisters’ husbands (one wife, three sisters, one husband each).


mop the floor

A student told me that soon after he started his first job in Australia, his boss told him to ‘mop the floor’, and he stood there dumbfounded, because he didn’t know what ‘mop’ meant. His boss eventually told someone else to do it. I said that it was a good way of getting out of unpleasant work tasks. He said that if he did it too often he’d lose his job.

He said that ‘mop’ wasn’t in any of his textbooks, and he hadn’t encountered it otherwise. How do writers of textbooks decide which words to include and which to leave out? We can at least clean, sweep, mop, scrub or vacuum the floor (though we might vacuum the carpet or simply vacuum). Writers of textbooks can’t include them all.

‘Our English teacher is affectionate’

My students were learning about adjectives describing people’s personality. The main activity was matching about 20 words in a box with their respective definitions. Several students mixed up charming and sociable. One student neatly explained the difference by saying ‘Charming is about other people coming to you, and sociable is about you going to other people’. Many movie villains and their equivalents in real life are charming but not sociable. The drunk at the pub is sociable but not charming.

I then wrote on the board, ‘I am ____ and ____, You are ____ and ___, My mother is …, My father is …, etc Our English teacher is ____ and ____’ and divided the students into pairs, and they talked about those people. At the end I prompted each student to talk about one of those people. The student I prompted to talk about ‘Our English teacher’ hesitated, glanced at the worksheet and said ‘affectionate’ (possibly because it was the first on the alphabetical list). I like to think that I am affectionate, but I rarely show it, even to those it is socially acceptable for me to show affection to. I am certainly not affectionate to my students.

It could have been worse. The next word on the list was ‘aggressive’.