sê-ror-êt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The practice of marrying a sister (or sisters) of a wife upon the death of the wife or if the wife proves barren. 2. The rule prescribing such a practice. Various native North Americans and African peoples observe this practice or have in the past, including the Inuit, Cheyenne, Navajo.
Notes: Although this word looks like a verb, it is not used as a verb though it may be used as an adjective, as sororate customs. A related word is levirate, the custom of a man marrying the wife of a deceased brother. Both words are often used with the: the sororate.
In Play: This term is generally restricted to anthropology courses, but the issue may come up if you are speaking to any one of a large number of peoples including the Eastern Cree, Modoc (California), or Gelao and Laqua peoples of Vietnam. The practice is also found among African peoples, including the Mende of Sierre Leone, the Nupe of Nigeria, the Serer of Senegal, the Turkana of Kenya and Uganda, and the Nuer of Sudan and some Telugu peoples in Southern India. This is a common basis for polygamy, practiced in order to preserve genealogical lineage.
Word History: Today's Good Word is based on the Latin for "sister", soror. The earliest form of this word was Proto-Indo-European swesor, which also produced Sanskrit svasar, Russian sestra, German Schwester, French sœur, and English sister, all with the same meaning. You have probably already figured out that Latin soror lies at the root of English sorority (sisterhood), but did you know that there is also a word sororicide "the killing of a sister"?