шурин, деверь и свояк

When two people get married, they instantaneously acquire a whole new bunch of relatives, referred to in English as “in-laws”. Without going into details, I have to say that I really dislike this term and its derivatives. French belle-famille sounds so much better!

“In-laws” have no exact equivalent in Russian. Instead, there is a bewildering array of terms, seemingly for every possible relationship the spouses and their family members can have. Now imagine translating a family saga from one language to another.

For instance, деверь, свояк and шурин are all boringly translated to English as “brother-in-law”. But how one should translate ambiguous “brother-in-law” to Russian?

Послушай, Зин, не трогай шурина:
Какой ни есть, а он родня.

Владимир Высоцкий, Диалог у телевизора

I first heard this song by Vladimir Vysotsky when I was about ten. I thought “Шурин” was a possessive adjective derived from the name “Шура” used as a matronym, just like the name “Райкин” (Raikin) can be interpreted as “Райки” (“one of Raika”).

Another song has more relations in it than one could possibly digest:

Чтобы я привёз снохе
С ейным мужем по дохе,
Чтобы брату с бабой — кофе растворимый,
Двум невесткам — по ковру,
Зятю — чёрную икру,
Тестю — что-нибудь армянского разлива.

Владимир Высоцкий, Поездка в город

It is not that most Russians nowadays know exact meanings of all these words. (I never even heard — or read — the word ятровь until I came across this Russian post.) Gradually, they become obsolete, and I believe there’s a good reason for that.

As the families are getting smaller, there is simply no need to classify your relatives into groups some of which may be seriously underpopulated. Besides, the use of these terms can make a discourse rather awkward — or ridiculous. Take the couple from the Vysotsky’s song: Ivan can talk about his шурин but for Zina it is weird as шурин is simply her brother. Weirder still, it is she who brought him into the conversation. I can’t imagine anyone seriously addressing his or her relatives as “mum-in-law” or “bro-in-law”. I think it is better to stick to the names.

деверь husband’s brother
зять male relation to wife’s family: son-in-law; the husband of one’s sister or sister-in-law
золовка husband’s sister
невестка female relation to husband’s family: daughter-in-law; the wife of one’s brother or brother-in-law
сват father of one’s son-in-law or of one’s daughter-in-law
сватья mother of one’s son-in-law or of one’s daughter-in-law
свекровь husband’s mother
свёкор husband’s father
свояк husband of wife’s sister
свояченица wife’s sister
сноха daughter-in-law
тесть wife’s father
тёща wife’s mother
шурин wife’s brother
ятровь, ятровка wife of husband’s brother

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