Home > Contemplations > Cousin’s Wedding Weekend Musings. Yiddish Words That Have No English Translation

Cousin’s Wedding Weekend Musings. Yiddish Words That Have No English Translation


Yes, this weekend is my cousin’s wedding. He is getting married on Sunday so tonight we had a huge family dinner with all the cousins, my brothers in from out of town, my cousin’s aunts and uncles and all the grandparents. It was quite the event. But this whole weekend has gotten me thinking about a Yiddish word – related to marriages – that as far as I can tell has no English translation.

When I say this word has no English translation I don’t mean that the concept doesn’t translate or that it doesn’t make sense in English. What I mean is that there is no word for it at all but if I explained it to you you’d understand it. It has led me to wonder if there is any archaic English word that fell out of use over the centuries. If there is such a word I would like to revive it.

The word I am referring to is “Machatunim” (that’s pronounced “mah-chah-too-neem” and the ‘ch’ is the guttural, throat clearing sound). The word describes the relationship between one’s parents and their child’s parents-in-law. The only term I can think of to describe it in English would be “co-in-laws”.

If you aren’t following let me give you an example: I get married to a girl so her parents are obviously my mother-in-law and father-in-law but there doesn’t seem to be an English term to describe the relationship between my parents and my wife’s parents. My parents are my wife’s mother and father-in-law and her parents are the same for me but aside from calling them “my son’s mother-in-law” or “my son’s father-in-law” or “my son’s in-laws” there is no definitive term.

In my research into this I found out there is actually a Spanish terms for this – according to Yahoo! Answers UK anyway – and that is “consuegros”. Google Translate won’t translate the word to English, maybe because there isn’t a translation? So I am left to trust the Yahoo! Answers UK poster.

Do you know of any word in English that describes this relationship? Any word in any other language that describes this relationship? Should we make one up for English if one doesn’t yet exist? Let me know what you think!

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  1. Helen
    October 1, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    The man in the wine shop at Trader Joe’s told me about this word. And he’s a convert to Judiasm. Yet he knew it, and I didn’t, even though I grew up in NYC in Washington Heights. My husband and I call my son’s in-laws our out laws, because there is no English word for it.

    • October 8, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      Hahaha, outlaws is a good one but unless they have a sense of humor I wouldn’t let them hear you calling them that!!! They may not appreciate it very much.
      A word I made up which as far as I know does not exist in any language is to describe the relationship between you and a friend’s significant other who you aren’t friends with without the common link of your friend. I call people like that my “friend-in-law.”

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