G4BB 75: Odds and Evens

Odds and Evens

75.1  Over the years, I have thought about going “back to school”…but as time goes on, that prospect has become less and less likely. There is the outrageous cost of course…but also the simple fact that as you get older, and unless you’re steadfastly a moron, you learn a lot on your own…especially with those subjects you’re really interested in. My concern is what happens if you’re taking a class, and it turns out you know more than your professor…and I recently got a little taste of that, so I know it’s not impossible.

75.2   I was reading a book about a specific aspect of marriage and kinship, written 16 years ago by a professor of anthology at a university you’ve heard of. There’s no need to mention either him or the book by name…suffice to say it is an interesting read, albeit a bit on the longwinded side. Early on, he reviews our basic kinship system, reminding readers that your 1st cousin’s son is your 1st cousin once removed…hence your father’s 1st cousin is also your 1C1R…and in turn your father’s 1st cousin’s son is your 2nd cousin. He explains that for the purposes of the book’s thesis, this is the system that will be used, as indeed it is what’s used in our courts of law.

75.3  But he does an interesting thing: the states that while this “official” system is what he will be using, there is in fact another system of kinship terminology in use in the US, that of one’s 1st cousins’ son being one’s 2nd cousin. I found that odd, and emailed him, wondering whether he was being a bit “generous,” affording this common mistake the status of a full-blown system. And to my surprise, he responded, saying that no, he really meant what he said…that he had lived for some time “in the South,” and this alternate system is indeed in common use.

75.4   I was curious to know more…as I always am when I encounter someone who makes the “2nd cousin” mistake. Such a person doesn’t understand our kinship system, nor has much practical use for it, and thus may not, for example, see that based on his meaning of 2nd cousin, his father’s 1st cousin would also be his 2nd cousin. And as to what his father’s 1st cousin’s son would be to him (a “real” 2nd cousin), he is at a loss…perhaps something “removed”?…but he typically doesn’t have the foggiest.

 75.5  Sometimes that person is open to learning how the actual system of kinship works (recalling Chart 127 above)…other times that person has been “right” his whole life and isn’t interested in changing. I don’t generally push, since that would be rude…people are people, after all. But here was a suggestion that behind the common mistake was an actual system, in parallel use to our universally agreed upon one…something I had never encountered, either in theory or in practice. Back in G4BB 36: The Cousiners, I speculated on what such a system might look like, and I’ve reproduced the resulting Chart 128 here…

75.6  It is my belief that the “son of 1st cousin is 2nd cousin” mistake stems from 3 bits of reasoning, probably not even at the conscious level: that there is such a thing as a 2nd cousin…that “2nd” naturally follows “1st”…and finally, what else could a 1st cousin’s son be called? Now if one persists in this error, and is pressed to identify his relationship to his father’s 1st cousin’s son, the fact that, similarly, there is such a thing as a “cousin removed” might be his solution. But what kind of cousin removed exactly?

75.7  Once we’ve decided, by this incorrect reasoning, that your father’s 1st cousin is 
your 2nd cousin…by simply putting oneself in the place of your 1st cousin’s son and looking backwards…you might think, OK, “2nd cousin’s son” is your 2nd cousin once removed, since it is one generation down. The problem is, in that case who would be your 1st cousin once removed? By this line of reasoning, wouldn’t your 1st cousin’s son be your 1st cousin once removed, also one generation down? But we’ve already decided that that’s your 2nd cousin…so again, who is your 1C1R…you don’t appear to have one!

75.8  Since we’ve come this far, it seems the only way out is to call your father’s 1st cousin’s son your 1st cousin once removed…and expanding on this idea, you get Chart 128…which is in fact a consistent and logical kinship system…like ours except that the meanings of numbered cousins and cousins removed have been reversed or swapped. In G4BB 36, I gave my reasons for judging this system inferior to our system…but again, the average person making the “2nd cousin mistake” isn’t thinking that deeply about it. Except now…I was confronted by an egghead who was saying that such an alternate system does exist and is in use.

75.9  But as I pressed further, I was startled to learn that Chart 128…reversing numbered and removed cousins…wasn’t what the gentleman had in mind. His system was much simpler, doing away with the concept of removed cousins entirely. Now I applaud that part of it…removed cousins is confusing to many people (altho not to all, by any means!) The idea that cousins of another generation are also your cousins needlessly muddies the waters…and the Spanish system of 2nd uncle/2nd nephew neatly avoids this confusion. The Spanish system has been occasionally adopted by speakers of English, and I wish there were a way to encourage that. But the question is, how do you construct a useful system of collaterals…or “cousins” if you will…without the idea of removed cousins…that is, how do you indicate a cousin is not yours, but instead your father’s or your grandfather’s?

75.10   And his disheartening  answer was, whenever you move down the family tree, you simply add 1 to the number of the cousin…to which I replied: aha! you’re talking about an Even/Odd system, as shown in Chart 262. I call it that because notice that in your generation, all your cousins are odd1st, 3rd, 5th…etc. Up or down one generation, these relations to you are even cousins…2nd, 4th, 6th, and so on. Then beyond that, odd again, then even, alternating back and forth, as shown in Chart 263. Kind of reminds you of the old adage that inherited characteristics “skip” a generation, doesn’t it? And of course, it’s been said that the reason grandchildren and grandparents get along so well is that they have a common enemy… 😉 😉

75.12   Now if you’re thinking I had examined the Even/Odd system before, you’re right of course. And altho I  found it useful in a slightly different context…which I will explain in  75.18…as an unambiguous system of kinship terminology, it’s woefully inadequate…and to see that, you need look no further than 3rd cousins, of which you have 3. Your 3rd cousin is your grandfather’s first cousin and also your 1st cousin’s grandson…these are reciprocal relationships…they are on different ends of the same cross-generation relationship. But there’s another 3rd cousin, in your generation….what would correctly be called your 2nd cousin…the son of your father’s 1st cousin, here incorrectly called your 2nd cousin. So even if the 2 cross-generational types of 3rd cousins are differentiated by something like ascending/descending or backwards/forwards, what about the same-generation type? And 4th cousins take up 4 different positions on your family tree…5th cousins, 5 positions, etc.

75.13  My correspondent’s feeble response was that there was ambiguity in all types of removed cousins, so what’s the big deal. The big deal of course is that with removed cousins, there are never more than 2 “different” ones…the opposite ends of the same 2-person relationship…no different really than the 2 ends of the father/son relationship. What’s more, the 2 “different” 1C1R can be differentiated, clumsily but effectively, as ascending/descending or backwards/forwards. But how do you intend to differentiate between, say, the 9 types of 9th cousins, 4 pairs of reciprocal cross-generational relationships, plus one in your generation? What do the people you lived with “in the South” say about that?

75.14   And to be perfectly clear on this point, let’s examine precisely what this “ambiguity” really amounts to.  True, saying “Abner is my 1C1R” could mean “Abner is my 1st cousin’s son” or “Abner is my father’s 1st cousin.” Adding ascending/descending resolves the ambiguity completely, and absolutely nothing more is needed no matter how far up, down, or sideways you go with cousins…the system is complete, and unambiguously identifies every relative you have. What’s more, saying “Abner and I are 1C1R” is the same as saying “One of us is the 1st cousin of the other’s father.” This is ambiguous only until you explain which is which. But the same thing happens even when the 2 ends of a relationship are given different names…saying “Abner and I are uncle and nephew” suggests, but does not state unambiguously, which is which.

75.15  But the crucial point is this: the relationship between 2 1C1R’s is a natural, reciprocal relationship, no less than father/son or uncle/nephew. You need to add ascending/descending to spell it out precisely…again, something the Spanish 2nd uncle/2nd nephew scheme does much more simply and elegantly. But according to this so-called Southern System, let’s see exactly what relationships, as expressed in our system, are grouped together as “4th cousins,” and if that grouping seems natural to you:

               1st type…your 1st cousin’s great grandson
               2nd type…your father’s 1st cousin’s grandson
               3rd type…your 2G grandfather’s great grandson
               4th type…your 3G grandfather’s grandson

75.16  And there are other ways to state this, using various degrees of uncles, grand and great…or, using our terminology, numbered and removed cousins. But do you see these  “4th cousin” relationships as forming a natural grouping? Do you look at them and say, sure, they’re basically the “same” relationship. Of course not. People don’t do anything of the sort…thus this system is no real system at all. Remember, the ambiguity of our system is solved with just 2 modifiers: ascending and descending. When dealing with 5 types of 5th cousins, 6 types of 6th cousins, 7 types of 7th cousins, etc., a system of modifiers becomes increasingly intricate. Does this sound like a practical, useful system to you?

75.17  This anthropology professor eventually accused me of “being determined to denigrate one of the systems.” Now I understand that among academics these days, there is a fad for the non-judgmental approach…of any 2 things that are different…be they languages, religions, cultures, anything…neither of them can in any way be thought of as being “better” than the other…and this naturally plays into the diversity craze. But I also understand that arguing against such determined ignorance is like talking to a brick wall, and it was time to stop. It was certainly an eye-opening, if frustrating, conversation.

75.18  But as I mentioned in 75.12, there is a context in which the Even/Odd scheme is useful…and that is in determining the degree of relationship between any 2 individuals. For example, the 4 individuals who would be called “4th cousins” are related to you in the 7th degree*…your CR to each of them is 1/64. But this is hardly the way people classify their relatives. Take the example of your half brother, uncle, and grandfather…they are all related to you by a CR of 1/4…but would you then group them together with the same terminology? I defy you to show me an actual kinship system, past or present, that does.

75.19  And for the record, the degree of our system is the “cousin number” of Chart 262 plus 3…as above, 4th cousin + 3 = 7th degree. But again, this is not a useful way to classify everyday kinship…and you’d think a college professor would know that, wouldn’t you? Looks like I’ll have to remain Big Man Off Campus...C U in 7…

* Bear in mind, these degrees are unilineal, or thru just one line of descent…and as such don’t match up exactly with Coefficients of Relationship, which for us are bilineal. For instance, the CR between you and your half-sibling, grandfather, and uncle is in each case 1/4…but you are related to you half-sibling and grandfather in the 2nd degree, to your uncle in the 3rd degree. Likewise,  your father and brother are both related to you by a CR of  ½, altho their degree of relationship to you is 1 and 2 respectively. Degrees are simply counting the steps from you to your relative…and for collaterals, these are really half-relatives, since we are only considering descent thru one side of your family**…the reason you and your brother have a CR of ½ is that, as full brothers, you are double half-brothers…which is to say, you are related thru both your father (1/4) and your mother (1/4)… and 1/4 + 1/4 = ½.

** Well, to be completely correct, thru your father, his father, his father’s father, etc…an unbroken succession of males.  Another way to say it would be, we are only considering descent thru one side of your family, one side of your father’s family, one side of your grandfather’s family, etc. This is the patrilineal form of unilineal descent…and it is unilineal at every generation in favor of the males, or on that generation’s father’s side.

Wicked Ballsy

In  G4BB 36,  I charted the patterns of cousins…1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc…whether removed or not…as Chart 130.  It is expanded above as Chart 264…top left is the correct cousin system based on Chart 127…bottom left the numbered/removed cousins reversed as per Chart 128…and on the right, from the Jelly Bean Jungle of Chart 262.  So you have 3 “systems”…3 patterns…interesting, I suppose…call it “Zen and the Art of Misidentifying Your Kin.”


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

shameless plugilineals…

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