Kith and kin


“Kith has had many meanings over the years. In its earliest uses it referred to knowledge of something, but that meaning died out in the 1400s. Another sense, “one’s native land,” had come and gone by the early 1500s. The sense “friends, fellow countrymen, or neighbors” developed before the 12th century and was sometimes used as a synonym of kinsfolk. That last sense got kith into hot water after people began using the word in the alliterative phrase “kith and kin.” Over the years, usage commentators have complained that kith means the same thing as kin, so “kith and kin” is redundant. Clearly, they have overlooked some other historical definitions, but if you want to avoid redundancy charges, be sure to include friends as well as relatives among your “kith and kin.” ”

Madeleine Bunting wrote in The Guardian of 25.4.07:

“This is how Michael Young (father of writer Toby Young) began his London School of Economics PhD thesis, which he later, with Peter Willmott, turned into Family and Kinship in East London. It describes, on his first venture into the East End, a pea souper fog in Bethnal Green and how he had had to abandon the pre-war taxi he’d bought for £40 and used as his private car. Asa Briggs, Young’s biographer, said it was more like the start of a novel than a doctorate thesis.

“The fog became thicker as I crossed the canal from Bow and by the time I left the housing office I could not see on the ground … I abandoned the old London taxi … and that was when the enquiry began. Waiting until I heard some steps, I put my first question: I asked the way to the nearest Tube station. ‘Search me, mate,’ came back the voice, curiously loud in the fog. Then a woman spoke from nearer me. ‘The Tube? Yes, dearie, you go straight on till you get to the traffic lights. You turn left and you’ll see it right in front of you. What a game, eh?’ With the help of other faceless friends, I felt my way, tapping my foot against the kerbstones as I went. I am still tapping. So I know when the enquiry began. What I am much less clear about is why. What brought me to the housing office? So far as I can remember, the point of departure for my journey into the fog was an interest in the social services, particularly in housing.”

Writ large: mixed memories of Family and Kinship

(eg) David Kynaston, Writer and historian:

I’ve had a three-stage relationship with Family and Kinship. At first, it seemed to explain everything: Britain in the 50s as a world of solid, rooted working-class communities before the great upheaval of slum clearance, comprehensive redevelopment, high-rise, mass immigration, social and geographic mobility, consumerism, de-industrialisation – and Thatcherism. Then, as I discovered that even in the 40s the British people were essentially individualistic in their instincts, the whole notion of “community” became questionable in my eyes, and I saw the book – perhaps harshly – as not only overly sentimental but also insufficiently aware of how the future lay with Debden, not Bethnal Green. Now, whatever the historical controversies, I feel that its ultimate value is literary: the finely textured observation of how extended families work, the range and intimacy of the voices, the humane and non-judgmental perspective of the authors. What a shame that British sociology, increasingly academic and theory-driven, subsequently lost the plot.

David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain 1945-51 is published by Bloomsbury…”

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