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Word for the Wise September 15, 2006 Broadcast Topic: Nephew and nepotism

Nowadays, the word nephew has two well-known meanings and one less-common one. Nephew can refer to the son of one's brother or sister, and it can refer to the son of one's brother- or sister-in-law. It also refers (and this is the less usual sense) to the illegitimate son of an ecclesiastic. (来源:www.EnglishCN.com)

Surprised to learn about this latter sense? Then you may be intrigued to learn about some now obsolete meanings of nephew and about how its history gave us the word nepotism.

We'll begin by noting nephew once referred to any lineal descendant, including a grandnephew and cousin and especially a grandson. Back in the late 1400s, during the papacy of Sixtus the Fourth, that Roman Catholic pope granted many special favors to his kin, particularly to his nephews (nipote in Italian). That tradition of papal favoritism outlived Sixtus, and in the 1600s, it became the subject of a book titled (in Italian) The History of the Pope's Nephews.

It didn't take long for the Italian version of nephew to make its way first to French and then to English, where, by 1670, the word nepotism was being used to mean "favoritism, as in appointment to a job, based on kinship."

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