Here is the word for "brother-in-law" in various modern Germanic languages: schwager (German), shvugger (Yiddish), swaer (Afrikaans), svoger (Norweigan/Danish), sogor (Croatian), zwager (Dutch), sweager (Frisian), schwoer (Luxembourgish), svagor (Slovak), svak (Slovenian), schvaher (Ukranian) - Thank you Google Translate.

From what I read in the Proto-Indo-European Etymological Dictionary (if I'm understanding it properly), these words come from the Old High German word gi-swio or geswīe. To me, that etonym looks awfully like the Aramaic/Syriac word גיס (pronounced giss), which means "brother-in-law." I'm not sure what the etymology of this Aramaic/Syriac word is, but it does appear in the Mishnah (which to me suggests that it is not a Persian loanword) and other rabbinic sources. Is it possible that there is a connection between the OHG word and the ostensibly Semitic word?

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    I’m voting to close this question because it lacks basic reseach like looking up the relevant etymologies in an online dictionary. Jul 21, 2021 at 16:33
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    @jk-ReinstateMonica. What online etymological dictionary do you suggest for Aramaic?
    – fdb
    Jul 21, 2021 at 16:39
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    Understanding the Germanic formation with a collective prefix ge- alone is enough to see that those words cannot be related. Jul 21, 2021 at 16:44
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    More likely related to Russian svekor (father-in-law). en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D1%81%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BA%D0%BE%D1%80 It comes from PIE swéḱuros (father-in-law). The Germanic schwager comes from PIE swēḱurós en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/… and ultimately from swéḱuros.
    – Anixx
    Jul 21, 2021 at 18:13
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    You’ll have to specify what exactly The Proto-Indo-European Etymological Dictionary is – there are several works which have similar names and several more which fit in content, but none I’m familiar with that have that particular title. Are you talking about the revised version of Pokorny’s IEED which was made by the Dnghu Association in 2007? If so, that reproduces Pokorny almost directly and is thus quite out of date. None of the words you mention come from OHG ge-swio or ge-swīe; those are related words from the same stem, but not the ancestor of any of the others. Jul 22, 2021 at 8:31

3 Answers 3


Aramaic gīsā is a shorter form for aḡīsā “wife’s sister’s husband”. I do not have an etymology for this, but it really does not look anything like Indo-European *sueḱuro- or any of its descendants.


The Germanic schwager comes from PIE swēḱurós, meaning "brother-in-law". It is a derivation of swéḱuros "father-in-law", from which also comes Proto-Slavic svekrъ.

Could you lookup Wikitionary?

  • So why does the Proto-Indo-European Etymological Dictionary say that it come from the Old High German word gi-swio or geswīe? Am I misreading it? How all the words you mentioned have an s/sch at the beginning, and these words have a g in the beginning. How did that happen? Jul 21, 2021 at 18:28
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    @RebChaimHaQoton either your dictionary is wrong or you misunderstood. Others already said that ge- is a prefix in Germanic, so the words possibly come from the same PIE root.
    – Anixx
    Jul 21, 2021 at 18:30
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    @RebChaimHaQoton What is the "Proto-Indo-European Etymological Dictionary" that you're referencing? Is it a published dictionary by a reputable academic publisher? Could you give an exact reference (incl. the page number)? It's hard to guess why a book says what it does when we don't know the context.
    – pinnerup
    Jul 21, 2021 at 20:12
  • the g-prefix has the same source as co-, and Greek ka-, so cousine and kasignetos do offer enough precedent to back-project a compounding formation, though *swesor "sister" is a different root, gnetos, genesis, kin, Kevin etc. have no internal derivation for a more precise interpretation. Indo-Greek builds similarly on synonym *s.m-, adelphos, sagabra "brother, sibling", with sá- being the expected outcome of both *'kom- and *s.m- in Indic. Which is to say, between Sanskrit śvāśurá and cousin it looks pretty much like reinterpretation building on *swe- "self, sui".
    – vectory
    Jul 27, 2021 at 3:42
  • @Anixx there is no Hittite, no Tocharian either, so I m not sure which "PIE" you are talking about, pretaporter-Indo-Eetalian maybe?
    – vectory
    Jul 27, 2021 at 3:43

Having now confirmed that this is from the Dnghu Association 2007 update of Pokorny's Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, it appears the relevant passage you're talking about is on page 2651 which says the following under its heading for the pronoun se- "reflexive pronoun" (text in square brackets my own translation):

  1. other Zugehörigkeits- and Verwandtschaftsbezeichnungen [affiliation- & relationship-terms] (compare under eigenen Schlagworten [its derivations] *su̯elio[n]-, su̯esor-, su̯ek̂uro-s, suek̂rū-) are:

Maybe Alb. (*su̯elio vëlla “brother (*brother-in-law, sister’s husband)”[sic]

O.Ice. sveinn “Bursche, herdsman, shepherd”, O.S. swēn ‘schweinehirt” (Bedeutungsanschluß an swīn ‘swine”), O.E. swün ‘schweinehirt, herdsman, shepherd”, poet. “man, warrior”; Lith. sváinis (*su̯oinio̯ s) “of Weibes sister’s husband “, sváinė “die sister the wife, woman”, Ltv. svainis “brother the wife, woman”; O.H.G. (ge)swīo “brother-inlaw, sister’s husband “, M.H.G. geswīe m. f. “brother-in-law, Schwägerin”, O.Ice. sveit f. “Kriegerschar”;

and on page 2992 under the heading for su̯ekrū- "mother-in-law or father-in-law"

lengthened grade: O.Ind. śvüśura- “zum father-in-law gehörig”, O.H.G. swāgur (*su̯ēkurós) “brother-in-law (*son of Schwiegervaters)”, also “father-in-law, son-in-law”.

It is not suggesting that the Germanic words you cite are derived from Old High German gi-swio or geswīe. The Old High German (ge)swīo and Middle High German geswīe are given as examples of words derived from the same root used for a similar meaning (i.e. relatives, especially in-laws).

"Ge-" is a common Germanic prefix likely cognate with Latin con-, and not part of the root, which is *s(u̯)e here. The particular modern words you provide in the OP are certainly derived from the extension *su̯ēkurós, rather than from any form with this prefix. This form bares no resemblance at all to Aramaic (a)gīsā.

There is no plausible resemblance in the earliest stages of these words, or a plausible route for a borrowing at such an early stage.

It is a coincidence, and not an especially close one at that.

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    Allow me for the moment to play the advocatus diaboli. Let us assume that the (Middle) Aramaic of the Roman period borrows a kinship term from Germanic (e.g. from the speech of German soldiers in the Roman army). The fact that the Germanic word contains the prefix ge- is absolutely no obstacle to it being borrowed, prefix and all, into any other language. To assume a borrowing in the opposite direction is, however, rather more difficult.
    – fdb
    Jul 22, 2021 at 14:39
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    @fdb Would that work, time-wise? The form giswio is OHG, so fairly late – at the time of Roman armies, it would almost certainly have had to be *ga-swīo- with *a in the first syllable, which I assume would be fairly unlikely to be borrowed as ī. I’d also have to question why a loan in Aramaic should sprout an extra initial a- (and end up with a long ā at the end?) if the source just has a g. Jul 22, 2021 at 15:45
  • @JanusBahsJacquet the long ā is just a grammatical ending in Aramaic. In earlier eras it's a definite article, but later on just becomes the default form of a nominal
    – Tristan
    Jul 22, 2021 at 15:56
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    @Tristan. Again, all not so simple. It continues to function as an article in Western Aramaic, but becomes the "default form" in Eastern Aramaic.
    – fdb
    Jul 22, 2021 at 18:55
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    indeed they are. The sociolinguistic relationship between French and English is rather different than that between the Old Germanic languages and any variety of Aramaic though
    – Tristan
    Jul 24, 2021 at 15:38

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