Blood and Water: American Adoption Stories- A Preamble

I recently read that the phrase “blood is thicker than water” (understood today to mean that the blood relations of our families are more important than any other) is but a modern shortening of the 16th century phrase “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

This revelation implies that the colloquial meaning of “blood is thicker than water” is, in reality, quite the opposite its original meaning.

“The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

In its intended meaning, this popular phrase meant that the bonds strengthened with blood– on battle fields, or by friends swearing blood-oaths, or by extension, simply by going through difficult times with someone– are stronger than any natural biological bonds.  

This interpretation made a great deal of sense to mean adopted daughter to a family with whom I have always felt as bonded as any of my friends were to theirs. Surely, I always thought, our most important ties are not genetic– but forged by shared experience. 

Blood and Water: American Adoption Stories is a blog series dedicated to studying changing views toward adoption and  the diverse experiences of adoptive mothers and children in different periods of American history using first-hand accounts by adoptive mothers and children as well as scholarly sources that discuss or epitomize contemporary philosophies about adoption from the seventeenth century through the present. As you read the stories and opinions presented in this blog I invite you to share your thoughts about adoption, motherhood, and family in the hope that we all can emerge from this project understanding family ties better than before. 

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3 thoughts on “Blood and Water: American Adoption Stories- A Preamble

  1. Many people still say “blood is thicker than water” to refer to family relationships being paramount, but how has social science either confirmed or debunked that phrase?

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  2. The history of that phrase is very interesting! Knowing a little bit more about the background and context of it gives completely different meaning to it. When did it start to change to the idiomatic meaning we think of today?

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  3. I had never realized that that phrase actually meant the complete opposite of what we use it for. It actually makes more sense this way to me than otherwise, though, because I never knew what water referred to. What social conditions of the time when the phrase originated made people so sure of its truth? Was adoption a common practice at the time?

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