Okay, the title makes it seems as though I made these terms up, but I’ll show you that this, of course, isn’t the case.

I’ve talked about gendered language in the past (using they as a third-person, singular pronoun; using Mx; avoiding using sexist pronouns; using woman or female as an adjective). Today, I want to talk about gendered language again, especially regarding family relationships.

In the English language, there are often gender neutral options to the gendered words we use in family relationships:

Female Male Neutral
Daughter Son Child
Mother Father Parent
Sister Brother Sibling
Grandma Grandpa Grandparent

And so on.

Something I noticed recently was that there didn’t seem to be a gender neutral term for niece/nephew. While researching this, I came across two terms I’d never heard of: nibling and nephling

Nibling

Nibling has been around for over half a century, first coined by Samuel E. Martin, a linguist at Yale University. It’s a neologism combining the N in nephew and niece with the “ibling” in sibling.

It’s far from common, but it has appeared in a few printed works, mostly obscure texts and articles.

I should mention that nibling is also an earlier spelling of nibbling, appearing as early as the turn of the 17th century in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Nephling

Nephling is a synonym of of nibling, but it’s been around at least 100 years longer than the latter. The first occurrence of nephling I could find was from 1843 in a letter written by the author Nathaniel Parker Willis.

It’s a combination of nephew and sibling. Alternative spellings include niephling and niefling, although those are recent inventions, possibly because nephling seemed too male-centric.

Bonus: Sofralia

And if neither of those sound appealing, you might appreciate this third option.

An attorney rabbi in Detroit coined the term sofralia (a combination of the Latin words sofra, and lia: “sister”, “brother”, and “child”). Apparently, he was frustrated with the lack of no collective term for nephews and nieces, so made up his own. Even though 2 already existed.

Needless to say, sofralia is far rarer than nibling and nephling, and that’s saying something.

About Kim Siever

I am a copywriter and copyeditor. I blog on writing tips mostly, but I sometimes throw in my thoughts about running a small business. Follow me on Twitter at @hotpepper.

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