#67: Maildrop R.F.D.

Dear Stolf: You always say “2nd cousins are the children of 1st cousins”…well, everybody says that. But then why isn’t the child of your 1st cousin your 2nd cousin? You…and they… say it is not, but instead it is your 1st cousin once removed. This seems like a contradiction to me…care to disentangle? …from Wooly, in Bullyburg

67.1  Dear Wooly: My privilege and pleasure. But here’s the thing: it’s all well and good to correct a mistake…but understanding why the mistake was made in the first place is better. Heck, I do that all the time…I seldom make a mistake without going back and trying to see how and why I did that. And it helps, believe me…it’s how a person learns.

67.2  Thus I have wondered long and hard about the origin of the common mistake, thinking your 1st cousin’s child is called your 2nd cousin. My explanation is I think pretty reasonable. But your question raises another possibility, one that simply hadn’t occurred to me…which I will get to in a moment.

67.3  I believe 3 simple ideas simultaneously, altho certainly not consciously, lead to to the 2nd cousin mistake…

               idea 1: there is such a thing as a 2nd cousin
               idea 2: the number 2 comes after the number 1
               idea 3: the child of a 1st cousin has to be called

And that something must “logically” be a 2nd cousin…what else could it be? Well, if you don’t know how the “removed” terminology works, then indeed there doesn’t seem to be anything else it could be. But if I might digress slightly, “idea 3” needs some explanation…after all, there is something else you could call your 1st cousin’s son…and that is “the son of my 1st cousin”…just that simple. In English, there may not be a specific word for such a relationship…the best we can do are phrases with numbers and the word “cousin.” But this doesn’t mean we can’t refer to or talk about such a person…we obviously can, and quite clearly and unambiguously. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the idea that English “lacks words” for various relatives is true only in a very narrow sense…specific words, yes…ways to communicate the relationship and indicate to whom they apply, no…we don’t lack those in the least. In fact, a language that has specific words for “maternal grandfather” and “paternal grandfather” may not have a word that means just “grandfather” at all! It’s then a matter of opinion which language is the “poorer.”

67.4  Thus this “what else could it be?” way of thinking results in the 2nd cousin mistake. It is an “educated guess,” and when you ask a person who makes this guess about what other relatives would be called, especially a real 2nd cousin, your parent’s 1st cousin’s child, you generally find they are guessing about those as well, and will eventually run out of guesses…there is no coherent system involved, because this isn’t something they think about or care about very much. And those do who decide to care about it very soon come to understand how our kinship terminology is arranged, which is my whole point.

67.5  But now let’s examine the simple statement: The children of 1st cousins are 2nd cousins. One thing I have learned in life, never underestimate people’s ability to misunderstand even the simplest declarative sentence. You do it, I do it, we all do it. So this definition of 2nd cousin could mean one of 2 things…

                (A)  The child of my 1st cousin is a 2nd cousin to me.

                (B)  The child of my 1st cousin is a 2nd cousin to my child.

And there’s the problem: …is 2nd cousin TO WHOM? I have always, correctly, taken the definition to mean: if a pair of 1st cousins each have a child, those children are 2nd cousins to each other…paralleling the case where a pair of siblings each have a child, and those children are 1st cousins to each other. But now that I really look it at it, the definition surely could be interpreted as “The child of my 1st cousin is a 2nd cousin…to me”…since those are the only people explicitly mentioned in the definition: me, my 1st cousin, and my 1st cousin’s child. Yes, my child is implied….implicitly mentioned, if you will… but if you don’t see that, you get it wrong.

67.6  Thus, in the definition: The children of 1st cousins are 2nd cousins, it’s the word “children” that causes the problem…it’s meant to mean the children of me and my first cousin, our children…in other words, the children of each of a pair of 1st cousinsbut it could be taken to mean just the children of my 1st cousin…and in that case, who else could they be 2nd cousins to but to me? As Travis Bickle might say, there’s nobody else here! Yes, we’re getting pretty involved with this…but explaining to someone what this particular wording of the 2nd cousin definition really means, might in fact be their eureka! moment…oh, so that’s how it works…now I get it!…I was reading it all wrong…

67.7  Here’s what to remember:  a cousin is your generation…a cousin removed is somebody else’s generation…in other words:  a cousin is your cousin…a cousin removed is somebody else’s cousin…

67.8  And certainly much of the confusion people have in understanding what removed cousins are stems from the fact that what we call them is based on how they are related to someone else, not you. They aren’t really cousins, in the sense of them being your cousins. Depending on the generation, they are more like uncles/nephews if once removed…grand uncles/grand nephews if twice removed…great grand uncles/grand grand nephews if 3 times removed, etc. And in practice, a parent’s first cousin may be called “Uncle Bill” or “Aunt Zenobia,” since they are of the same generation as a parent’s siblings.  

67.9  Also keep  in mind that one person by themselves cannot be a relative….you can’t have a father without a son, or an uncle without a nephew…and if both your parents were an only child, you don’t have any 1st cousins, and can’t be a 1st cousin to anyone. So for you to be a 1C1R, you have to have a 1C1R “on the other end”…in this case, one of you is the 1st cousin of the other’s parent….using the terms ascending and descending tells which is which, just as father/son and uncle/nephew distinguishes the generations.  It’s a cumbersome system…and the Spanish system of 2nd uncle/2nd nephew…instead of 1C1R ascending/1C1R descending…does it more simply and logically…occasionally you’ll see this terminology used in English…too bad we can’t all get on board that train. [But see today’s Wicked Ballsy…]

Dear Stolf: dopeGEEK got another one…  from Shontelle, in Sebastopol CA

67.10  Dear Shontelle…I see it, yeah…and just for the sake of argument, let’s build it up
step by step…starting with his dad’s brother…which isn’t really a “Conan relation” since the questioner obviously wishes to distinguish said gentleman from his mom’s brother…and they have the right. The fact that he’s married to somebody in your family kind of gives it all away in terms of potential blood relatives, but let’s see it thru…

Now here’s the other half, my grandfather’s sister’s husbandthat being your parent’s aunt and your grand aunt. Putting these 2 halves together, Chart 223a, it seems natural for you and your boyfriend to be on the same generational level…except that leaves your grand aunt and his paternal uncle on the wrong levels. Hooking them up, Chart 223b, reveals you and your boyfriend to be of different generations…or you would be if you were blood relations, which you aren’t…your families are linked only thru marriage. If you must, you can call your boyfriend your parent’s 1st cousin-in-law, making you his 1st cousin once removed-in-law….maybe  better to say 1st cousin once removed by marriage, altho that’s a tad confusing…still, you asked.


Dear Stolf: My husband and I are having an argument…we understand that if male identical cousins married female identical cousins, their respective children, altho 1st cousins, would be as closely related as full siblings. But my husband says they’d be even closer related than that, since they’d also be double 1st cousins…being the offspring of 2 brothers marrying 2 sisters. I think he’s gone too far on this. Please settle!  …from Beanie, in Cecilville

67.12  Dear Beanie: It’s certainly true that with identical twins, genetic and genealogical relationships no longer jibe. And as I suspect you appreciate, this is because the twins are genetically identical, and thus can be considered as one single person. If each of 2 female identical twins has a child with a different husband, these kids are genealogically 1st cousins, but genetically half-siblings, since from a genetic point of view, it is the same as if the 2 different husbands had each procreated with the same woman.

67.13  Thus in Chart 224, X and Y are 1st cousins…but unlike normal 1st cousins, their Coefficient of Relationship is 1/4, not 1/8. Genealogically and genetically derived CRs usually match…but when they don’t, genetics wins out, since that’s what we’re talking about in the first place. Now let’s see what happens when the female identical twins marry male identical twins.

67.14  Your husband is right that, as seen in Chart 225, X and Y are genealogically double 1st cousins, since their parents are 2 brothers who married 2 sisters. But once again, the presence of identical twins bumps up the CR, in this case to the equivalent of full siblings. Genetically, it as if we are dealing with just 2 individuals, not 4…see Chart 226.  Seen this way, there is no increase for double 1st cousins since there are no uncles or aunts, hence no cousins at all…genetically, the offspring of both couples are siblings. The bump-up from double 1st cousins to full siblings has already taken the increase due to double 1st cousins into consideration…and indeed gone beyond it. Next week, a change-o-pace…smokin’ o.p.’s…chow till then…

Wicked Ballsy

Props to 2nd Uncle Kalen…he’s got it…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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