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What Does "Shvigger" Mean?

What Does "Shvigger" Mean?


Shvigger: (SHVI-gehr) n. mother-in-law

Many see this Yiddish word as a built-in insult. It’s really anything but.

In Jewish tradition, it is forbidden to call one’s parents by their names. Rather, they are respectfully referred to as “Mother” and “Father.” Honoring our parents is actually one of the Ten Commandments, so it ranks right up there with revering G‑d’s name and not murdering.

This reverence extends to in-laws, who are called “shvigger” (mother-in-law) and “shver” (father-in-law) respectively.

How do we know this? We take our cue from King David, whose father in law (and primary tormentor) was King Saul. David called Saul, avi, “my father.”

Yet generations of Borscht Belt mother-in-law jokes and the insulting ring of the word have conspired to make “shvigger” anathematic to many English-speaking women, who just can’t imagine the term referring to them.

Note that “shvigger” bears no relation to “shveig,” the Yiddish word for “be quiet.” For that matter, neither does “shver” have anything to do with its homonym, “shver,” which means “heavy” or “difficult.” So even if you have a mother-in-law who you wish would be quiet and a father-in-law who is both difficult and overweight, rest assured that: a) you are not alone, b) this has nothing to do with their Yiddish titles, which they can still bear with pride.

While we’re on the subject, here are the Yiddish terms for the other in-laws:

  • Brother-in-law: Shvogger
  • Sister-in-law: Shvegeren
  • Son-in-law: Eidim (the only one not to begin with “sh”)
  • Daughter-in-law: Shnur
  • In-laws: Muchutonim. This term has two uses. Narrowly defined, people whose children are married (or even engaged) refer to each other as mechutonim (the male is a mechuton and the female is a mechuteniste). In a broader sense, entire clans that have been joined through matrimony can be called mechutonim.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Avraham Maryland January 17, 2018

Is there a connection to the Spanish "suegra"? Reply

Yankeleh Gilead Eastern Thailand January 11, 2018

Hello everyone,

there is a wonderful rendition of "Shvigaro" based on the aria "Figaro" from the Rossini opera, The Barber of Seville. google it up and enjoy. Reply

Deena Melbourne, Australia January 10, 2018

The Hebrew sounds so much nicer.
Mother in law - chotemet
Father in law - choten
Son in law - ben choreg or chatan
Daughter in law - bat choreget or kallah
Brother in law - gis
Sister in law - gisa Reply

Anonymous Israel January 9, 2018

I have always considered it an amazing feature of Jewish family life that our children's in-laws have a proper title designating their relationship to us, the other parents. I don't believe any other language has a title for the mechutanim. When children get married, the family circle increases to include not just the parents-in-law, but their children and grandparents as well. We share simchas, worries, holiday wishes, etc, even across the miles -- we are all mishpacha. Reply

Eric Boston January 13, 2018
in response to Anonymous:

In-laws in French is quite nice.

beau-pere Reply

alice Richmond hill January 8, 2018

thanks! i needed these spellings; even though i am sadly divorced. So i guess i no longer have a mother in law or father in law (they are still alive.) Reply

Lisa Chicago January 8, 2018

Add a comment...nonetheless, it still sounds insulting. Reply

Yankeleh Eastern Thailand January 11, 2018
in response to Lisa:

Yiddish is the most entertaining language in the world. Like we Jews, Yiddish has an answer or word for almost everything and anything. Reply

Gerd-Frederic Lummerzheim Deutschland January 8, 2018

(Ich hoffe alles verstanden zu haben)
Mein schlaues Buch "Duden Das Herkunftswörterbuch" sagt, dass das Wort Schwager bedeutet, Bruder der Ehefrau oder des Ehemannes, bzw Schwägerin bedeutet Schwester der Ehefrau oder des Ehemannes. Dies gilt sehr ähnlich in verwandten Sprachen wie Dänisch, Schwedisch, sogar altenglisch oder selbst indischen.
Daher kann das Wort "Shvigger" aus dem frühen Deutsch übernommen worden sein, was ja nicht abwegig ist. Auch eine eigene Erklärung über David und Saul sind da kein Widerspruch.

Shvogger = Schwager
Shvegeren = Schwägerin
Eidim = Schwiegersohn, aber auch Aidam
Shnur = Schwiegertochter

Für mich wäre interessant, ob es für schwanger, Schwangerschaft (englisch: pregnant) ein Wort im jiddisches Wort gibt. Reply

ella schuchman January 9, 2018
in response to Gerd-Frederic Lummerzheim :

about me worrt gibt jiddisches ein wort im eschweiegrsohn aber auch aidam xxx Reply