Why Do We Call Our Spouse's Relatives 'In-Laws'?

There's no law requiring you to spend every other holiday with your in-laws.
There's no law requiring you to spend every other holiday with your in-laws.
monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images

While we’re all busy trying to remember that the plural of mother-in-law is mothers-in-law, not mother-in-laws, we often forget to ask a far more interesting question: Why do we call them in-laws in the first place?

You might assume it’s because your spouse’s family members are related to you by law, not by blood—but the law in question has nothing to do with the marriage license your officiant ships off to the county clerk. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in-law refers to canon law, a church’s set of rules and regulations that covers, among many other things, which relatives you’re prohibited from marrying. Since the earliest known mention of the term in English is brother-in-law from the 14th century, it was most likely citing the canon law of the Catholic Church (as the Church of England wasn’t founded until the 16th century).

At its inception, in-law was specifically used to describe any non-blood relative that the church forbade you from marrying if your spouse died: your spouse’s siblings, parents, and children, and even your own stepsiblings, stepparents, and stepchildren. So father-in-law, as The Word Detective explains, could’ve either meant your spouse’s father, or your mother’s new husband. But by the late 19th century—at which point the Church of England and other Protestant faiths had established their own canon laws with varying marriage rules—the colloquial definition had expanded to include all spousal relatives, and in-laws became a standalone phrase. The earliest written mention of it comes from an 1894 article in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, which states that “the position of the ‘in-laws’ (a happy phrase which is attributed with we know not what reason to her Majesty, than whom no one can be better acquainted with the article) is often not very apt to promote happiness.”

In other words, tension between people and their in-laws has been around for as long as the phrase itself. If that's part of what brought you here in the first place, here are 12 pieces of 19th-century advice for dealing with them.

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Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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Who Was Jim Crow?

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

The name Jim Crow appears throughout many U.S. history books. It's used in reference to both the laws that segregated Black and white Americans in the Southern United States and the region itself during the period when these laws were enforced. Jim Crow Laws and the Jim Crow South were very real from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries, but a real person named Jim Crow never existed. The name comes from a fictional character used to perpetuate racist stereotypes before the Civil War.

According to Ferris State University, a white performer named Thomas Dartmouth Rice originated the Jim Crow caricature in the 1830s. Rice, known as "the Father of Minstrelsy," would don blackface and affect an exaggerated African American dialect while performing his musical act. Jim Crow was meant to be a racist stereotype of an enslaved person: Like many minstrel personas that came after him, the character was portrayed as a clumsy buffoon.

Though Rice didn't invent minstrelsy, his success helped popularize the stage show format. Inspired by Rice, other minstrel actors borrowed his Jim Crow routine, and soon whites were using the name as a derogatory term for African Americans.

Even after slavery was abolished and minstrel shows faded into obscurity, the Jim Crow character lived on as a label. According to History, the first Jim Crow laws were passed in the Reconstruction Period as a way to limit the rights and resources of newly freed Blacks in the South. Such laws imposed literacy tests on Black voters, segregated public schools, and made it legal for businesses to segregate their customers by race.

How exactly these laws became associated with Jim Crow is unclear, but the phrase Jim Crow Laws was being used by the late 19th century. An 1892 article from The New York Times used the wording when reporting on Louisiana's segregated railroad cars.

Though most people may not be aware of the name's origins, Jim Crow still comes up today when discussing this dark period in U.S. history and its lasting effect on the country.

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