[Ads-l] milk sibling

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sun Mar 6 19:12:38 UTC 2016

The February 19, 2016 TLS has a review on p 23 of a book *Brothers and
Sisters in Medieval European Literature*; the reviewer says "As [the
author] observes, medieval families were often . . . composed of varying
configurations of blood, half, step, foster, in-law, sworn and milk
siblings (who shared the same wet nurse). . . .

The OED has "milk brother", "chiefly *U.S.* *regional*".   The review
suggests that it also survives or has been reborn in academic discourse, in
a less gender-specific form.

milk brother  n.  [with quot. 1897
   compare Russian *moločnyj brat* son of one's wet-nurse] chiefly *U.S.*
*regional* a foster-brother; *spec.* a person to whom one is unrelated but
who was nursed by the same woman; the son of one's wet-nurse; also *fig.*
1883    *Catholic World* May 262   Irish history has preserved the memory
of the intrepid self-devotion of foster-brothers who received the enemy's
fire—made a target of their own bodies—shed their blood, and lost their
lives in the vicissitudes of war, to save their ‘milk-brothers’ from
1897    *Strand Mag.* Christmas No. 617/1   Ivan was what is termed in
Russian the ‘milkbrother’ of Alexia Bobrofsha.
*a*1965    W. S. Maugham *Far Eastern Tales* (1993) 199   Science is
milk-brother to art.
1996    *Dict. Amer. Regional Eng.* III. 594   *Milk brother*,..From a man
born in rural North Carolina about 1915. He hoped to visit his milk brother
this summer. Seems he was quite premature and his mother had no milk, so a
neighbor nursed him and her own offspring.

George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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