Do you ever learn a new word in Spanish, pause for a minute, scrunch up your face, and then say to yourself, I’m going to act like I didn’t just hear that? That was me yesterday with a word it seemed like more trouble to learn than it was worth: concuño/concuña. Now that I’ve been able to ask around, though, and let my brain slowly process it, I’ve come to really like it. Long live concuños! The word describes a very unique relationship whose specialness I had never thought about before. I love it when Spanish helps me notice the existence of something I was either ignorant of before or took for granted.
My first patient yesterday was accompanied by another woman. When I asked her if she was a family member, she told me that she was her concuña. It sounded like some garbled version of cuñada, but then my brain caught up and realized that she had said something I’d never heard before. And then I did something truly heinous as a Spanish learner: I pretended that I understood. Ah, ya. I nodded and gave one of those knowing smiles. Of course, su concuña. What else? Lo sospeché desde un principio. The student in me, though, pitched a fit, chided my stupid pride for being so stubborn and for squandering this learning opportunity, and eventually won out. Trying to act nonchalant, I went into my You may not realize it, but you just said something fascinating–would you care to elaborate? mode (no relation to the I’m a Spanish poser–please teach me that very elementary word that just came out of your mouth mode), and I got to the bottom of concuños. Sort of.
If I understand it right, a concuño is the husband of one of your spouse’s siblings. A concuña is the wife of one of your spouse’s siblings. Is that clear? Or clear as mud? As the woman explained it to me, I kept getting lost. So, it would be my husband’s sibling’s spouse. Hypothetically, of course. As I confirmed later in the day with friends, you have to be married to be or have a concuño/a. So, thankfully, I’m still off the hook when it comes to having to buy any gifts on Concuño‘s Day. Whew. I can imagine the coffee cup now: WORLD’S GREATEST CONCUÑO. I think I’ll pass.
I think I may have unwittingly stumbled upon a relatively easy way to understand this whole concuño business just now, but I was totally baffled most of yesterday. Look at this explanation from the DRAE and you’ll see why.
1. m. y f. Cónyuge de una persona respecto del cónyuge de otra persona hermana de aquella.
2. m. y f. Hermano o hermana de una de dos personas unidas en matrimonio respecto de las hermanas o hermanos de la otra.
Well, that was supremely unhelpful. I then tried Wiktionary.
1. one’s spouse’s brother-in-law; that is, one’s sister-in-law’s husband (one’s spouse’s sister’s husband), or, the brother of one spouse in relation to the siblings of the other spouse.
(in the plural) The relationship between two people who marry siblings: Men whose wives are sisters, a man and woman whose wife and husband are brother and sister, etc.
2. one’s brother-in-law or sister-in-law’s brother; that is, one’s sibling’s spouse’s brother (one’s sister’s husband’s brother or one’s brother’s wife’s brother).
(in the plural) The relationship between two people whose siblings are married to each other: Men whose brother and sister are married, etc.
Again, while this all makes sense to me now because I got a few different people to walk me through it and then got to sleep on it, yesterday I kept tripping up and getting confused. By the way, I was told that the second definition (the siblings of your brothers/sisters in-laws) is not a concuño. Maybe it is somewhere, or maybe it used to be, but it seems that modern usage has left that meaning in the dust.
Focusing on the first definition, I find the most helpful explanation to be this one: The relationship between two people who marry siblings. (I know, at first it sounds like something illegal until you think it through.) If I’m married to someone, they are more than likely to have siblings, and those siblings probably have partners as well. The relationship between me and those partners? You got it: we’re concuños. Me, I’m hopeless about thinking in the abstract. I need names and faces; telling myself that some non-existent X or Farley would be my concuño doesn’t help me. OK, if I was still in my last relationship . . . my partner had two siblings, and they were married to Bibiana and Alejandro respectively. And, there I have it: my exconcuños. I was a concuña, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt! I was a concuña, and I didn’t even know it or appreciate it. How unfortunate. You can bet that the next time I get a chance to be a concuña, I will milk that position for all it’s worth. I will also strive to be a much better concuña.
Basically, you’re concuños if you both were cuckoo enough to marry into the same weird family. At family gatherings, you can sneak looks at each other that say, These people are crazy! Any time you need the expert and impartial advice of someone who, like you, is not from that family but who knows all their quirks and oddities as intimately as you do, who are you going to call? Your concuño! You know, I’m just now realizing that this concuño relationship is quite beautiful and useful. As we don’t have a word for it in English, I’d never thought of the special nature of that in-law relationship. You get an outsider-insider’s view to corroborate your own impressions, and you know your concuño will have your back any time family bizarreness and insular loyalty get out of hand. Of course, many people (and I was one of them) have the good fortune to marry into wonderful families. (Marry, date, whatever.) When things are going swimmingly and familial harmony abounds, concuños can thank their lucky stars together that they were able to marry into such a cool group of people and gain such amazing family members for free. ¿Qué habremos hecho para merecer tanta dicha? I look forward to one day having concuños again.
Just so you know, this word is apparently most prevalent in Mexico. Some Central Americans also told me that they’re familiar with it. As far as I know, it’s non-existent in Colombia, so probably the rest of South America by extension. There’s also the word concuñado/a. Had you ever heard the word concuño? Am I understanding it correctly? What has been your experience with concuños? Can you think of other ways that Spanish delineates family relationships differently from how we do so in English? What, if anything, does this change?