"brother of one's husband or wife," also "brother of one's sister's husband," c. 1300; also brother in law; see brother + in-law. In Arabic, Urdu, Swahili, etc., brother-in-law, when addressed to a male who is not a brother-in-law, is an extreme insult, with implications of "I slept with your sister."
Entries linking to brother-in-law
"male person in his relation to another person or other persons of either sex born of the same parents," Old English broþor, from Proto-Germanic *brothar (source also of Old Norse broðir, Danish broder, Old Frisian brother, Dutch broeder, Old High German bruodar, German Bruder, Gothic bróþar), from PIE root *bhrater-.
A stable word across the Indo-European languages (Sanskrit bhrátár-, Greek phratér, Latin frater, etc.). Hungarian barát is from Slavic; Turkish birader is from Persian.
Other words sometimes come to mean "brother," when the cognate of brother is widely to "member of a fraternity," or as an appellation of a monk (Italian fra, Portuguese frade, Old French frere), or where there was need to distinguish "son of the same mother" from "son of the same father." For example Greek adelphos, which probably originally was an adjective with phrater and meant, specifically, "brother of the womb" or "brother by blood," and became the main word as phrater became "one of the same tribe." Spanish hermano "brother" is from Latin germanus "full brother" (on both the father's and mother's side); Middle English also had brother-german in this sense.
The meaning "male person in relation to any other person of the same ancestry" in English is from late 14c. The sense of "member of a mendicant order" is from c. 1500. As a familiar term of address from one man to another, it is attested from 1912 in U.S. slang; the specific use among Black American is by 1973.
1894, "anyone of a relationship not natural," abstracted from father-in-law, etc.
The position of the 'in-laws' (a happy phrase which is attributed ... to her Majesty, than whom no one can be better acquainted with the article) is often not very apt to promote happiness. [Blackwood's Magazine, 1894]
The earliest recorded use of the formation is in brother-in-law (13c.); the law is Canon Law, which defines degrees of relationship within which marriage is prohibited. Thus the word originally had a more narrow application; its general extension to more distant relatives of one's spouse is, according to OED "recent colloquial or journalistic phraseology." Middle English inlaue (13c.) meant "one within or restored to the protection and benefit of the law" (opposite of an outlaw), from a verb inlauen, from Old English inlagian "reverse sentence of outlawry."
updated on October 10, 2017