G4BB 77: Anyone for Seconds?


Anyone for Seconds?


77.1  I would like to share with you something I found on the net at Yahoo! Answers. It was posted by “Anonymous” back in 2009, and it should answer, once and for all, all those self-appointed “experts” who claim there is no such thing as a “second uncle/aunt” or “second nephew/niece.” Well…unless you’re a blockhead, in which case there’s probably no hope for it…I try not to underestimate people…but it’s hard…it’s so very hard. At any rate, the post is in blue italics, my comments in red.

77.2   okay. i know this is complicated. What I think you mean is: “This will seem complicated to you only if you are a dummy, but I’m too polite to say that.” Fortunately, I’m not, and in fact I just did. But trust me, Anonymous, I’m on your side all the way.  i’m mexican and in mexico there IS such a thing as a 2nd aunt.  Yes yes yes!  i have many second aunts. apparently, in the u.s., it doesn’t work that way. in the u.s., there’s no such thing as a second aunt. In the commonly accepted system of kinship terms, there is not, that’s true. But that doesn’t stop some people…as you yourself, Anonymous, will go on to point out.

77.3   in mexico, the son or daughter of your cousin would be 2nd nephew or second niece. so you’d be their second aunt. if you look at it in a genealogy chart, you can’t be cousins to your cousin’s kids because you’re not on the same “level” in the genealogy chart.  (Boldface mine.) Wow and double wow! Completely, utterly, and 1000% correct. It’s like my mantra: A cousin removed is a cousin to somebody in your direct line, just not to you. Once removed, a cousin to your father…twice removed, a cousin to your grandfather…3 times removed, your great grandfather, etc. When you say “removed,” you are explicitly signaling that this person is NOT your cousin, but somebody else’s…again, that somebody else being your father, grandfather, great grandfather, and on back. Once you understand that, the whole “removed” system should cease to be such a mystery….well, should…

77.4   you’re above them so that makes you a 2nd aunt. And that of course is the beautiful logic of it…it’s based on your father’s brother being your uncle, or in this sense your “1st uncle”…your father’s 1st cousin is your 2nd uncle, his 2nd cousin is your 3rd uncle, and like that. The point is, just as cousins are of your generation, uncles are of your father’s generation. Yes, his cousins are his cousins, but they are your uncles…different generations!

77.5  now i come to find that in the u.s., the children of your cousins are your cousins. my sister is really into genealogy and does big time research on this and she came to find that in the u.s., the thoughts about this are divided. in the u.s., some people will call their cousins kids cousins, and some would call them a 2nd nephew or 2nd niece. My guess is that native speakers of English who live in close proximity to Mexicans, or indeed to Mexico itself, may adopt what I call the “Spanish System.” Ditto those of Mexican or Latin American heritage. And tellingly, I have found this usage, in English, in historical records, suggesting a lingering influence of the Spanish presence north of the Rio Grande…sort of like “2 bits” (look it up)or the San Diego Padres baseball team… 

77.6   in mexico, it’s a big no no. like duh it would be a second niece. how were you raised to think about this? i just really trust my sister being that she does extensive research on genealogy. what do you guys think? thanks!  No, no, thank YOU…and what I think is, the Spanish System makes perfect sense…because I believe what puzzles people about the English System is that its sounds like everybody who isn’t an uncle…great, grand, or in combination…is somehow your cousin. That isn’t true, and the “removed” is intended to spell that out…but if you don’t understand that that’s what’s going on, you can get awfully lost awfully quickly.

77.7  OK, but you see, some people can’t leave well enough alone…some people can’t stand other people being right about anything…kind of reminds me of Gore Vidal’s famous quote: It is not enough that I succeed…others must fail. Thus came an objection to this very cogent explanation, from someone ironically enough calling themselves “Boomer Wisdom”…bearing in mind the old Chinese saying: The first step towards wisdom is to call things by their right names…

77.8  Historically, “cousins” could be just about anybody related somehow or in some way to your family or tribe. The word, in common usage, could mean someone close to you, loved, or even an actual genetic person who was not an outright sibling. Now, fast-forward to the development of Genealogy, which has limited these terms so that precise relationships can be understood. This is not a “US” sort of thing; it’s merely a precise definition used by Genealogists throughout the world to define genetic relationships.  (Boldface mine.) Now I wonder about that. After all, genealogists in other countries will no doubt tend to converse in their own languages…and some languages simply don’t have words corresponding to English kinship terms. Is English the “international language” of genealogy? I hadn’t heard that. Is there a master list of kinship terms in all known languages and their equivalent in English, so that everybody “knows what to say”? I seriously doubt it.

77.9  The cultural lay-people’s terms regarding cousins, second aunts and uncles are still quite legitimate in their cultural context. It’s just that they won’t work in Genealogical research because they are imprecise,  Well, no, you are simply flat-out wrong…”2nd uncle/aunt” is absolutely precise, and with the advantage that there’s no need to add the awkward “ascending/descending” and such terms also vary among different cultures and within the same culture. I’d be interested to see some evidence of that, specifically with regard to the “2nd uncle/aunt” terminology…but even so, what’s wrong with learning how other languages indicate kinship? After all, you’re not being asked to learn an entire language from scratch…not that there’s anything wrong with that either…just a few dozen words and phrases at most. And if you’re really interested in the subject, it would seem to me you’d welcome knowing how and why others do it…jeepers, it might even provide some insight into how and why you do it…

77.10  In Genealogy, cousins are determined by which particular set of parent ancestors they share, and by the difference in generations they share them at. Hence, the 1st, 2nd etc. and the first, twice, thrice etc. removed. It’s quite a different thing, and even most families in the United States don’t know how their children are related to their cousin’s children by this formula. And most families don’t care, unless they need to become genealogists or family historians. Yes, “don’t care”…that’s certainly true…altho genealogy is becoming more popular, especially among Baby Boomers…or whatever we’re called in other languages… 😉 😉

77.11  But without further ado, Chart 271 spells in all out in supreme detail. Spanish is here in redblack boldface is how it would be translated into English. And there are a couple of things that should be noted…

77.12  First, I have used male kin terms simply for the sake of convenience…with one exception, every Spanish word in Chart 271 that ends with an -o is made into its feminine counterpart by changing the -o to an -a…thus a female cousin is prima…an aunt is tia… a grandmother is abuela…and yes, a female 1st cousin 4 times removed, or a 2nd great great grand niece, is sobrina tatarabuela segunda. The sole exception is father/mother…padre/madre.  And I ought to mention that I’m no expert in the Spanish language, so if I make a mistake, I’d be pleased to hear about it…and such will be corrected with all due speed.

77.13  This is of course due to the fact that in Romance Languages…those derived from Latin…all nouns have gender. I suppose it doesn’t make a whole lot of literal sense to ask whether a clock or a bus is male or female…or technically you’d say masculine or feminine…but it works out well with kinship terms…up to a point. Spanish has no separate word for “parent.” If for example a child were expected to be “accompanied by a parent,” you’d have to say el padre o la madre…”father or mother”…there’s no other way to express it. On the other hand, “parents”…either meaning both your parents or people who have children in general…is padres. Likewise, the plural tios can mean either “uncles” or “aunts and uncles”…the context would have to guide you…and tias would be “aunts.” Similarly, hermanos refers to either brothers or siblings…sisters would be hermanas. 

77.14  Second, a 1st cousin is not transliterated into primo primero as a native speaker of English might expect, but rather primo hermano…literally “brother cousin.” The word primo means a cousin in the general sense, neither “numbered” nor, as it would be in English, removed. You will also find primo carnal and this refers to a “blood” relative….indeed, one definition of tio carnal I found was “uncle not by marriage”…well, how else?…by blood of course!  Altho a 1st cousin can also be called a primo carnal…while, slightly confusingly…you have primo segundo carnal…a 2nd cousin by blood. But such are the subtleties of language, of which, thru sheer force of habit, a native speaker is oblivious.

77.15  And there is a third point, which I will address in a moment…but to sum up, take a look at this post from years ago…

Quite nicely put, sez me.  In Spain, all cousins are of the same generation. Well, they are in English-speaking countries too…we call relatives in other generations “cousins removed” to our eternal consternation. Anyone of a different generation…is an uncle, aunt, nephew or niece.  And sensibly so…as was expressed back in 77.3, calling one’s 2nd uncle a “1st cousin once removed” is as jarring and nonsensical to a native speaker of Spanish as calling one’s uncle a “brother once removed” would be to a native speaker of English…because, again, your father’s brother isn’t your brother, removed or otherwise! The generation “removal” is denoted by “grand,” “great grand,” etc. Which is to say, 1st, 2nd, 3rd go out horizontally along the family tree, great and grand go up and down vertically.

77.16  And that last part is interesting…much of the confusion in our English kinship terminology stems from the fact that we have 2 different ways of expressing relational distance up or down…removed and grand/great. In Spanish, it’s like: choose one or the other…and they choose grands and greats, and have no such thing as removeds. But that brings us to that third general point about Spanish kinship terminology I wanted to mention…and in fact, it’s worth a whole blog, which will be next week, a sojourn with Señor Hoarfax.

77.17  And that is, as you’ll notice in Chart 271, grandfather and grandson do not transliterate into “padre grande” and “hijo grande” but rather abuelo and nieto. Then great grandfather is bisabuelo, bis- in Spanish means “twice”…and great great grandfather is tatarabuelo or sometimes tatara-abuelotatara being an alliteration of tratra, itself derived from the Spanish prefix trans-, which means what it does in English…”beyond” or “further.” From there, all hell breaks loose, as we shall see next week…but for a sneak peak, you might want to peruse, compare, and contrast the 2 charts below I found on the internet…see yez…


Wicked Ballsy

Forget the Mayans (with all due respect to the Mayans)…time ends in 120 years…for more information, see  Stolf’s Blog for Monday, July 23, 2012…and counting…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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