#60: More Mail liaM eroM

Dear Stolf: When you were talking about Anglo-Saxon kinship terms, you mentioned the significance of “eam,” mother’s brother, and how this word eventually came to mean all uncles. Could that be why the English word for “as an uncle” is “avuncular,” from the Latin for maternal uncle, as opposed to being from “patruus,” Latin for paternal uncle? …from Liz in Lonesometown

60.1 Dear Liz: Nice catch…while I don’t know for certain, it is suggestive, isn’t it? Something like the following might have happened: Churchmen translating Old English into Latin determined that “eam” meant “mother’s brother” and so translated that into “avunculus.” This would certainly explain why the eventual Modern English word for “uncle-ish” is derived from mother’s brother…and not from father’s brother, as you’d expect from a patrilineal system such as the Romans had. BTW, “eam” was also spelled “eme,” and according to the Oxford Dictionary, was used to archaic effect as late as the early 1800s.

Dear Stolf: I am one of 4 half-sisters…we all have the same mother, but different fathers. Two of these fathers are brothers, the others are their half-brother and their 1st cousin. Yeah…I know…don’t ask. We just call ourselves “the 4 sisters,” but we suspect we are more closely related than “normal” half-sibs…but how much and which ones? …from Anne in Elkville

60.2  Dear Anne: Your clan certainly presents an interesting situation, and an excellent chance to get in some quality practice time in diagraming and analyzing family connections. So let’s start with Chart 199. To simply our analysis, I’ve taken the liberty of giving your half-sisters and other pertinent family members appropriately mnemonic monikers. (Please don’t tell me Mom named all 4 daughters “Anne”!)

60.3  Now of course on your mothers’ side, because you have all the same mother, the 4 of you are each a half-sister to the other 3, all equal and accounted for, with a Coefficient of Relationship of 1/4.  Due to your fathers…which with “normal” half-siblings would be men who are unrelated…your relationships, taken as pairs of you, are closer, altho decreasingly so as we go. Simplest is between Anne and Beth…their fathers are full brothers, so Anne and Beth are full 1st cousins. Total CR 1/4 + 1/8 = 3/8…or halfway between 1st cousin and half-sister…so called “three quarter siblings.”  (Altho remember, that’s 3/4ths of the CR of normal full siblings…so 3/4th of 1/2 = 3/8. A CR of 3/4, or anything over 1/2, implies interbreeding, which “three quarter siblings” need not imply.)

60.4   Whatever Anne is to the other 2, Beth is the same, so we’ll continue with Anne. With fathers that are half-brothers, Anne and Cass are half-1st cousins, with a total CR of 1/4 + 1/16 = 5/16, just slightly more closely related than half-siblings (4/16 = 1/4.) Anne and Deb are 2nd cousins, since their fathers are 1st cousins. Thus they are ever so slightly more closely related than half-siblings…1/4 + 1/32 = 9/32, as compared to 8/32 = 1/4.

60.5  Likewise, Cass and Deb are also 2nd cousins, as their fathers are 1st cousins. And it is instructive to note that from Mr. D’s point of view, Messrs. A, B, and C are all his 1st cousins, regardless of whether they are full or half brothers to each other. What matters is that “Big Bro” and “Li’l Bro” are full siblings…hence their sons are all 1st cousins, regardless of which mother is whose.

60.6  But there’s an added twist, as shown in Chart 200. The way the question was stated, there is another possible arrangement…and that is that Anne and Beth’s fathers are 1st cousins with Deb’s father thru their mother Ms. AB, and not thru their father “Big Bro.” In this case, Deb’s paternal grandfather “Li’l Bro.” is a sibling of Ms. AB…and what this does is eliminate any blood relationship at all between Cass and Deb on their fathers’ side, making them half-sisters and nothing more. These results are summarized in Chart 201. So as to your answer, Anne…if the shoe fits, get another one just like it…as they say…(they who?…)

Dear Stolf: Have you seen the latest query at that loopy wiseGEEK Cousins page? If I could venture a guess, I would say the answer is 1st cousins thru mothers, 2nd cousins thru fathers. Am I close?  …from Manny in Moosylvania

60.7  Dear Manny: Bullseye! After over a year of weekly posts, some of this stuff is apparently rubbing off on some of you. As you can see in Chart 202, the questioner and their cousin are “irregular double cousins,” 1st cousins on their mothers’ side, 2nd cousins on their fathers’ side…for a CR of 5/32…or just slightly more related than single 1st cousins, which would be 4/32 or 1/8.

60.7  And on the practical side, here’s something I hadn’t really thought of until just now. When the cousins’ fathers’ family has a family reunion, they all say: “Well, their fathers are 1st cousins so they’re 2nd cousins.” To which the family historian might reply: “Sure, except that they’re also 1st cousins on their mothers’ side. I know that’s not how WE consider them, but that’s how they consider themselves…not that our family takes 2nd fiddle or anything, but it is what it is.”  

60.8  It’s almost like the cousins say to themselves: “Which family reunion is this, so what are we again?”  Which is why the generic term “cousins,” with no number, comes in real handy…and as we saw last week, generic terms can be missing from languages that have more specific kinship designations than English does, languages that might thus be erroneously considered to be “more complete.” It’s all relative, folks. Next week more questions and more answers, in approximately that order…till then, ego vobis valedicto…

Wicked Ballsy

Assignment for next week: As I was perusing Charts 199 and 200,  I noticed that unlike the other 3 fathers, Mr. D does not have a mother shown…that’s OK…for the purposes of determining the relationships between the 4 sisters, the fact that he’s a full 1st cousin to the other 3 fathers is enough. But I got to wondering, what if Ms. C was his mother? How does that change the 2 versions of the half-sisterly relationships as outlined in 199 and 200 (which I redrew  as Chart 203) and as summarized in Chart 202? Think on that and we’ll see how you did next next week…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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