Meet Señor Hoarfax
78.1 I should explain today’s title…it all starts with a feisty old character actress named Jesslyn Fax. She died in 1975 at age 82. She’s one of those ones you see in lots of old TV shows and movies…you instantly recognize her, but probably don’t know her name…except now you do. Her first name sounds pretty modern, doesn’t it…along the lines of Ashlyn, Jaclyn, Shaylyn, and countless other creations. And why is her last name Fax…they didn’t have electronic facsimile transmission when she was born in 1893, altho it does originate from 1914, perhaps further back than you might have thought.
78.2 So here’s the story…the surname Fax has at least 2 different origins…it can be a re-spelling of Fox. It is also an Old English word, originally feax, meaning “hair,” or more specifically a “head of hair.” In Old Norse it means “mane.” It survives today in such names as Fairfax (“light-colored hair”) and Colfax (“black hair”…i.e. coal)…altho not in Carfax, which is from the French carrefour meaning “crossroads” or “junction. J. R. R. Tolkien got into the act, naming a horse in “Lord of the Rings” Shadowfax, suggesting “gray hair.”
78.3 But is this even her real name? Yup, pretty much…she is listed in the 1901 Canadian census as “Jess E. Fax,” daughter of James and May Fax of Toronto. So anyway, to the second part…hoar literally means white or gray, as hoarfrost…figuratively, old or ancient, as hoary (“old and gray”)…and by extension, worn-out, overused, stale, as a hoary joke or hoary analogy. I put them together to get “gray hair”…or more like “graybeard,” an old guy…and that’s today’s topic.
78.4 Because as admirably as the Spanish language deals with collateral relatives…replacing the confusing “cousin removed” formulation with “2nd uncle/nephew,” it is ironically all over the place when referring to one’s direct ancestors…in short, there is no universally accepted system.
78.5 Everyone agrees that abuelo and abuela mean “grandfather” and “grandmother.” There is no word for “grandparents” as such, so it reverts to the masculine los abuelos. This is not surprising, since Spanish is a Romance Language, and these words derive from the Latin avus and avia. But it also means that going back further, you don’t have the simple great/grand convention of English, which in turn comes directly from German, where great grandfather is urgroßvater…that letter that looks like a capital B is an eszett or “sharp s” and represents 2 of them…”ss.” From there you simply add ur‘s…great great great grandmother for example is ur ur urgroßmutter. Sometimes you’ll see hyphens…like ur-ur-ur-…but without hyphens is considered standard, as it is in English.
78.6 As to great grandfather in Spanish, bisabuelo is as universal as it gets, altho there is a school of thought that prefers ordinal numeration, as second, third, fourth, etc…and in this sense, even abuelo becomes primer abuelo…primero (“first’) and tercero (“third”) lose the “o” when placed before singular masculine nouns. BTW, grandson and granddaughter are likewise unique words, not compounds of son and daughter…in Spanish they are nieto and nieta…and everything we say about grandparents applies to grandchildren, with one curious exception…see 78.14.
78.7 Chart 272 contains the “raw data” I gleaned online. Column A represents by far the most common usage…out of habit, I haven’t used hyphens, as they’re optional…and oddly, I can find no such abbreviation as “2T” corresponding to the “2G” for “great great” in English…I have done so here for convenience sake only. And I should mention that since I don’t speak Spanish, all of this is subject to correction…I welcome input from Hispanophones. Below for example is typical usage…I trust you’ll recognize those powers of 2…what this is is counting different surnames or apellidos, of which everyone in Spanish…in this case each of your direct ancestors…has 2…one from dad, followed by another from mom.
78.8 Bis in Spanish means “twice”…think “twice pipes” for what we would call dual or twin tailpipes on a vehicle. Tatara is derived ultimately from trans, or “beyond.” Now in case you weren’t aware of it, the English Language is about as freewheeling and inventive as a language could be…new words and phrases are coined almost on a daily basis it seems, and we borrow from other languages unabashedly as the mood hits us. Japanese resembles English in this respect. But not so most Romance Languages…certainly the man on the street says what he wants to say, the way he wants to say it, but there are “gatekeepers”…and they are not matronly English teachers, but august individuals of learning…in our case the Royal Spanish Academy…that is, the Real Academia Española or RAE. This quote from Uncle Wiki sums it up nicely…
78.9 Notice how they say unity instead of purity…ah! the power of words! And “various territories” refers to regional differences both within the confines of Spain itself, and across the globe…indeed, RAE is the leading member of an umbrella organization of Language Academies in 21 other countries. To which the native speaker of English might respond “Wha–?”…can they really do that? Well, they can try…where it says “legislation” that literally means laws…and you know, if it were illegal to post a sign that read apple’s when you meant apples, that might not be such a bad thing. The RAE periodically publishes a dictionary, nicknamed the DRAE…actually 22 revisions since the first edition in 1780…but it is notoriously conservative and slow to pick up on modern usage, regardless of how widespread.
78.10 And so it turns out that Column B in Chart 272 is essentially all they condone. I should say that I haven’t seen it myself…my information is anecdotal from bloggers on the net. Bisabuelo is accepted…I’m guessing begrudgingly…but the tatara- constructions are not. So there is a definite divide between “official” Spanish and common Spanish…not so surprising really…just consider the status of the English word ain’t. And if you wondered how the Spanish abuelo evolved from the Latin avus…it’s by way of the Vulgar Latin word aviolus…the other, avus, being what’s called Classical Latin…so linguistic bifurcations are nothing new.
78.11 But what can one make of all this? Common Spanish usage can be coded as AAAAA+…these 5 letters refer to the first 5 entries in Column A…grandfather thru 4G grandfather…the + means continuing in the same manner. Also in use are AAABB+ and AABBB+, switching to the ordinals of Column B after tatarabuelo and bisabuelo respectively. What the DRAE dictates would be coded as AABBB+ or better yet ABBBB+. And regarding those column B ordinals…as I understand it, words like first, second, third…and also numbers like 1, 2, 3…are placed before the noun, whereas most adjectives in Spanish come after, what in English is called “postpositive.” Thus you have dos padres meaning “2 parents.”
78.12 But you will come across the reverse…such constructions as abuelo tercero instead of the standard tercer abuelo for “great great grandfather.” Now I suppose you could call this “colloquial” Spanish, and it’s no doubt modeled after tio segundo meaning “2nd uncle,” your parent’s 1st cousin…as opposed presumably to segundo tio, or the 2nd of 2 uncles. In English we don’t call it “rule-breaking” but “idiomatic.” Is this in fact a practical way to distinguish between “my dad’s 1st cousin” (tio segundo) and “the 2nd of my dad’s 2 brothers” (segundo tio)? And is this strictly DRAE standard? Quite frankly, I feel at this point like I’ve stuck my head into a thicket of brambles and can’t get it out…would a 2nd great grand uncle, that is, the 1st cousin of your great grandfather, be your tio bisabuelo segundo following Column A…or your tio segundo abuelo segundo following Column B…or if the Language Police are watching, segundo tio segundo abuelo? Please forgive me if I’ve lost…for now at least…all desire to know for sure… 😉 😉 Perhaps a Hispanophone with a lot of time on their hands will sort it all out for us, and I thank them in advance, and mucho.
78.13 Let me simply push on by noting some other interesting features of Chart 272. Columns C and D are 2 fairly common alternatives to 2G and 3G grandfather respectively…adding the prefixes re- or tras-. What I find fascinating about these is that you couldn’t, it seems to me, use “2 from Column C” nor “2 from Column D.” By that I mean, if you’re going to use, for example, rebisabuelo instead of tatarabuelo, you couldn’t very well go on to use retatarabuelo since you don’t have a tatarabuelo in the first place! Anyone for ¿rerebisabuleo? Using my 5-generation coding system, your options would be AACBB+, AADBB+, AAACB+, or AAADB+…but no CC or DD…I think. Wait a moment, let me pick a thorn out of my eye…
78.14 And Column E is a grab-bag of other formulations I ran across…notice there is a hint that some would like to transform the ordinals of Column C from 2 words into 1 word. Also of note is abuelo chozno and choznoabuelo for 3G grandfather. The non-DRAE word chozno is almost universally used for 3G grandson…popping up seemingly out of the blue…some say it’s of Inca origin. The direct descendants would then proceed with ordinals…quinto nieto, sexto nieto, etc….except that sometimes bichozno stands in for quinto nieto…even rarer, but not unheard of, is bischozno. Oddly enough this chozno isn’t usually used for the ancestor half of the relationship, altho its presence in Column E shows it can be…more often it’s a term from Columns A-D. Thus for just that one generational span, there is a mix-n-match usage, sticking out like a sore thumb…but all the best and God bless, sez me. Lord knows, English can be pretty screwy too.
78.15 Now it might have occurred to you that part of the reason for this mishmash of terminology might be differences between the some 2 dozen nations and regions that speak Spanish. I have found some evidence of that…but it calls for research beyond my capacities of time and energy. But for example…a site on Cuban Genealogy gives the ancestor counterpart of descendant chozno as chotezno, instead of tatara-tatarabuelo or cuarto abuelo. And a website listing Spanish idioms the author thinks are uniquely Puerto Rican, claims that every other Spanish-speaking country calls a 1st cousin simply primo*, whereas Puerto Ricans alone…”for some reason,” he bemoans…say primo hermano. I doubt that he’s right about this exclusivity, but who knows?
*…and altho this blogger doesn’t say so, I’m guessing that he thinks when push comes to shove, those primo-only speakers of Spanish would call a 1st cousin primo carnal…anything but primo hermano…but again, who knows?
78.16 Finally, let’s conclude by going back to where we left off last week…2 kinship charts in Spanish I plucked off the net…both purporting to tell you exactly “how you’re supposed to do it.” I have isolated the direct line parts…on the left, we’d code the graybeards AAAB…on the right, your choice of either AAAD or AACD…followed by, it seems logical to assume in all 3 cases, B+ (but remember, in English there is no choice, thankfully!) The idea that trastatarabuelo could follow rebisabuelo, without there being a transitional tatarabuelo, makes no sense, obviously…but I’m too beaten down now to care…sorry. But listen, amigos…we’re not done yet…because if you ever wondered why there are grandparents and grandchildren, plus grand uncles, aunts, nephews, and nieces…but no grand cousins…well, presumably (?!?!)…you’d do well to come back next week…till then, auf wiedersehen…
Mindlessly rote “translations” on the net are always good for a chuckle (left-click to see this larger)…who is me indeed?
Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved
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