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I read about kenjougo (here and here) and understood that it is a type of honorific speech used to lower your rank below the person you are speaking to when you describe the actions of yourself or somebody within your in-group, be it your family or company.

The words I'm interested in:

  • Husband/wife: 愚夫・愚妻
  • Son/daughter: 愚息・愚女
  • Siblings: 愚兄・愚弟・愚姉・愚妹

Considering that humble speech is used when lowering your rank below somebody else, using the prefix 愚 when talking to somebody within your in-group can probably only be an insult. However, when the person in question hears you refer to them with 愚○, even in a situation that requires humble speech, doesn't that sound rather insulting as well?

  1. Is the humble prefix 愚 usually used for family members in situations requiring humble speech or is it mainly used to make fun of family members?
  2. Is there some other less "insulting" way to humbly refer to your in-group members?
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You wrote "when talking to somebody within your in-group can probably only be an insult", but it's not.

Being spoken to with humble speech per se means it's no longer the in-group in its own relationship (in other words, it can in another relationship). Whether one belongs to the in-group or out is relative and depends on cases. So it still works as a humble speech, though, of course, since it's abrupt and unusual to use humble speech among close relationship, it would sound joking.

So, nobody takes it as an insult as long as they have common sense, though 愚◯ series are a dated expression anyway.

As for paraphrases, I come up with せがれ for your son but I don't for the rest.

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As you can imagine, 愚 is basically a offending kanji. While 愚○ may be categorized as humble expressions, they actually sound "strong", and few people use them on the daily basis. If your family member did something wrong and you have to apologize formally, maybe you can use one of them. When you talk about your family member with your boss, usually you can safely use plain expressions like うちの姉, うちの妻, うちの息子, or such. 家内 is another common humble expression to refer to your wife.

But that does not mean using 愚○ is an insult. Everyone understands they are humble expressions. If I saw my father talking with some high person and he said うちの愚息 to refer to me, I would only feel he is being really polite. (Well, my father has never talked that way, anyway...)

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