Monday, February 26, 2018

Word of the Week - Family


Yet another word I just never bothered to look up...but once I did, I was a bit surprised!

German servants, early 1900s
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German servants, early 1900s
Did you know that family didn't mean "parents with their children" until 1660, though it was an English word since the early 1400s??? I sure didn't!

So what did it mean before? "Servants of a household." Well, huh! Interesting. From there, it shifted every so slightly into, "all the members of a household; the estate, the property; the household, including relatives and servants." Keeping in mind this would have been during a time when relatives far and wide would often come to live under a single roof.

Family comes from the Latin famulus, which meant "a slave or servant." We're not sure where that word comes from in Latin, but we do know it was never used for our modern definition of "family." That was reserved for domus. (Think: domestic.) This obviously shares a root with familiar, which comes about because those servants were party to one's private affairs.

So then, from that broad sense of "one's entire household, including servants," the definition eventually narrowed again to be just "parents with their children."

As an adjective, family has been in use since about 1600. "In a family way" (pregnant) is from 1796. But one I found interesting is that family man as we know it now is from 1856, but earlier it was used to mean a thief! (Because of the fraternity of thieves. Think mafia family type of thing).

This is really just a snapshot of the word's evolution and current meanings, but an interesting one, for sure!

4 comments:

  1. Boy, what an interesting word! I never knew all that about it. And, why wouldn't it be a noun or subject? Why adjective?
    1660? That's not that long ago! I always thought that it always meant father, mother and children.

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    1. It was definitely in use as a noun, Bev, with that not-what-we'd-expect meaning. But it wasn't used as an adjective (like "in a family way" or "a family man") until then.

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  2. Wow! Never, EVER would have suspected. Fascinated - as usual.

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  3. Very interesting. I never knew family meant "servants of a household" long ago. Wow!!

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