- family (n.)
- early 15c., "servants of a household," from Latin familia "family servants, domestics collectively, the servants in a household," thus also "members of a household, the estate, property; the household, including relatives and servants," from famulus "servant, slave," which is of unknown origin.
The Latin word rarely appears in the sense "parents with their children," for which domus (see domestic (adj.)) was used. Derivatives of famulus include famula "serving woman, maid," famulanter "in the manner of a servant," famulitas "servitude," familiaris "of one's household, private," familiaricus "of household slaves," familiaritas "close friendship."
In English, sense of "collective body of persons who form one household under one head and one domestic government, including parents, children, and servants, and as sometimes used even lodgers or boarders" [Century Dictionary] is from 1540s. From 1660s as "parents with their children, whether they dwell together or not," also in a more general sense, "persons closely related by blood, including aunts, uncles, cousins;" earlier "those who descend from a common progenitor" (1580s). Meaning "those claiming descent from a common ancestor, a house, a lineage" is early 15c. Hence, "any group of things classed as kindred based on common distinguishing characteristics" (1620s); as a scientific classification, between genus and order, from 1753.
I have certainly known more men destroyed by the desire to have wife and child and to keep them in comfort than I have seen destroyed by drink and harlots. [William Butler Yeats, "Autobiography"]
Replaced Old English hiwscipe, hiwan "family," cognate with Old Norse hjon "one of the household; married couple, man and wife; domestic servant," and with Old High German hiwo "husband," hiwa "wife," also with Lithuanian šeimyna "family," Gothic haims "village," Old English ham "village, home" (see home (n.)).
As an adjective from c.1600; with the meaning "suitable for a family," by 1807. Family values first recorded 1966. Phrase in a family way "pregnant" is from 1796. Family circle is 1809; family man "man devoted to wife and children, man inclined to lead a domestic life" is 1856 (earlier it meant "thief," 1788, from family in a slang sense of "the fraternity of thieves"). Family-tree "graph of ancestral relations" attested from 1752:
He was dressed in his best Coat, which had served him in the same Capacity before my Birth, and possibly, might be but little short in Antiquity, to the Root of his third Family Tree; and indeed, he made a venerable Figure in it. ["A Genuine Account of the Life and Transactions of Howell ap David Price, Gentleman of Wales," London, 1752]
The phrase is attested from 1844.
Happy family an assemblage of animals of diverse habits and propensities living amicably, or at least quietly, together in one cage. [Century Dictionary, 1902]