Is blood thicker than water?

I grew up hearing the expression, “Blood is thicker than water”. Meaning that a person’s family is more important — and more reliable — than their friends.


But the funny thing about idioms is that they change over time. A quick look at Wikipedia shows various ideas of blood thickness. There’s an interesting Arabian idea of blood (as in the blood-brother you’ve sworn loyalty to) being thicker than milk (suckled together).


But the alternate version I heard first was this one: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”. Which means the polar opposite of “blood is thicker than water”: it means that the relationships we choose are stronger than the relationships we’re just born into. I found it striking that the expression changed meaning completely — but hey, that’s the power of language. Phrasing matters.

More than that, I think that “blood of the covenant” idea is the more truthful one. Some people are born into abusive families who hurt them and stifle their potential. Some people are born into families they don’t hate, but also don’t really get along with. Ironically, relatives don’t always relate to each other. It’s great if you truly connect with your blood family, but if you don’t, there’s no good reason to prioritize DNA connections over the found friends who actually love and support you.

My stance shows clearly in the Stories of Aligare. In that world, a family is whoever you care about. Homes can be a patchwork of different people and connections. It’s fine if they’re not biologically related to you — or even if they’re a dramatically different species. Peregrine the korvi loves his adopted ferrin friends more than anything. Tenver the ferrin considers Constezza the korvi to be his mother. And as the years go by, Rue the aemet rearranges her definition of her nuclear family:

“I’m glad [Feor the dog] went to you,” Mother admitted. She worked an arm behind Rue, to put a love-soft hand on Rue’s shell. “You two match. Two is a half-measure of luck, you know.”

“You match?” Denelend hopped closer, tipping his head. “Oh, your names? Aemet names mean things, don’t they?”

“They do. Come on, Denelend — have a rest, dear. We’ve got plenty of light.”

Mother paused until Denelend was seated by her booted feet, patiently enduring while Feor sniffed him over. It was growing less strange to think of this gathering as the Tennel family — one with found friends woven in, a ferrin and a korvi and now a dog, too.

                                                                                    —Render (A story of Aligare), Chapter 7

I find that sort of attitude fulfilling to write about — as opposed to the more common fantasy ideas of family lineage and bastard children, which seem to breed nastiness and judgement. I think we can all use as many covenants as we can get.


3 Comments on “Is blood thicker than water?”

  1. Amaaré says:

    An interesting point. Many published authors in the fantasy genre base a large part of their worlds on the assumption that a world without our level of technology would suffer the same social systems and prejudices that ours still hangs on to from our own past.
    It’s a tricky idea to get away from, as without it many may find a world harder to enter, as their frame of social reference is further from that which you are trying to describe and, as such, many of the motivations of those that exist in that world are harder for them to associate with.

    • Hey, Amaaré! Yeah, fantasy often carries that burden of “how things actually were” (somehow, despite dragons and magic being perfectly fine in otherwise historical settings). That’s part of why I like using non-human characters: to make it clear that attitudes are different here.

      I have met readers who think it’s inconceivable for three sentient species to get along and not declare war on each other. But I don’t write for those people. There are plenty of war-and-prejudice stories already, both in fiction and in our Earth’s true history.

      • Amaaré says:

        True, this is a part of what makes your work interesting, it provides a thoroughly different view point from which to start and it is adjusting to that, especially when coming back from more “traditional” work that makes keeps your world interesting.
        Personally, my writing does occasionally include war and it’s associated horrors, but primarily as a device to illustrate the ridiculousness of the societal pressures that lead to it. My central (sort of) race is a very old civilisation and have gone long beyond such nonsense. Through them and their perspective on others, I seek to point out the things that make humanity so strange.

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