Kin Words

By Maeve Maddox

The other night a local television anchorman, not noted for a large or literary vocabulary, surprised me with the following:

I feel such a kinsmanship with these survivors.

The anchor’s sentiment was kind, but kinsmanship is out of place in modern English.

Kinsmanship has an entry in the OED, and Emily Dickinson (1830—1886) used it. It shows up on the Ngram Viewer, but at a minuscule percentage compared to the far more common kinship. And Word’s spellchecker underlines it in red. It’s safe to say that kinsmanship has been replaced by kinship as the modern English word to describe a sense of fellow feeling.

A kinsman is “a blood relation,” but the word is not common in ordinary speech. It has a literary feel, as in the title Two Noble Kinsmen.

Both kinsman and kinship derive from the same Old English noun: cynn, a word with several meanings, one of which is “people related by blood.” From the same word we also get kind in the sense of class or group. Kinship is what one feels for people with whom we identify in some way, people who are of the same kind as we.

Here are some recent uses of kinship on the Web:

Quecreek survivor feels kinship with Chile miners. 

When two firefighters meet for the first time, they will feel a kinship with each other that transcends many other examples of mutual hobbies or interests.

Why do so many feel a connection — be it kinship or competition — with utter strangers just because they share a name?

Kids who’ve lost limbs find kinship at Camp No Limits on Lake Coeur d’Alene

The nouns kin and kinfolk refer to people related by blood ties:

I had, it seemed to me, hundreds of kin—aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins—near the small town of Oak Hill, Ohio.

By adolescence, “what to do with Eleanor” began to concern her Roosevelt kin.

Arab immigrants are bound to each other by strong family ties, and most want to live and work close to kin. 

While Arthur was serving in the New York militia during the conflict, his wife privately sympathized with the Confederacy, for which many of her Virginia kinfolk were fighting.

A qualitative approach was used to look into the experiences of male caregivers in offering to look after kinfolk with harsh psychological sickness.

The expression “next of kin” means “the closest living relative” and is often used in a legal context:

Historically, the next of kin have exercised proprietary rights in the control of dead bodies.

If the person is under 18, the parent, legal guardian, custodian or next of kin may have authority to apply on the person’s behalf.

Police are withholding the name of the deceased, pending notification of next of kin.

Finally, the idiom “kith and kin” means “friends and family.” The noun kith is related to the archaic adjective couth, “known” or “familiar.” Kith are “people one is acquainted with.” Here are examples of this idiom:

People helped each other and expected help in return. This included soldiers who assumed kith and kin would help the wives and children they left behind.

As the album title suggests, Selway’s songs are laced with references to his kith and kin.

I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air. 

“Mind you,” said the old man, “even if I make good on this reef, I’ve neither kith nor kin to leave my money to. 

Note: Kin is frequently used alone, but kith seems always to be linked to kin

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4 Responses to “Kin Words”

  • Ellis Pratt

    “The anchor’s sentiment was kind, but kinsmanship is out of place in modern English.”

    He likes the word, I understand him, where is the problem?

    With the film “Kingsman” in the cinema, the word could be in for a revival (and new interpretation).

  • Don

    A note about one word in this sentence: “It shows up on the Ngram Viewer, but at a miniscule percentage compared to the far more common kinship.”

    Seeing the spelling “miniscule,” I feel kinship with you, Maeve. Whenever I write it, I have to remind myself not to get trapped. As you probably know, it’s “minuscule,” deriving from “minus.”

  • Maeve

    Don,
    I suppose I should be embarrassed at letting miniscule slip through, and I will ask Daniel to correct it, but I think enough dictionaries have come round to including it as a variant spelling based on American pronunciation that I can’t regard it as a major error. The OED quotes this observation by William Safire:
    W. Safire in N.Y. Times Mag. 8 June 16/2 The old-fashioned spelling is ‘minuscule’, but trendy people are pronouncing it ‘mi-NIS-kyool’, so what the hell.

  • Glenn Farrell

    The Church of England/Anglican (Episcopalian) Book of Common Prayer, from 1662, is still the ‘standard of worship’ in the Anglican Church of Australia, the antipodean version of the CofE. It’s written into the constitution. Even though we use more modern prayer books or none at all, the BCP is still the standard. At the back it has a ‘table of kith and kin’, showing (shewing?) the limitations of marriage partners. Cousins are allowed, cousins descended from cousins are not. I was always too lazy to find out who the kith were! Thanks!

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