#79: Yes, We Now Have Grand Cousins

79.1  I have on numerous occasions at this blog advocated the Spanish language system of referring to collateral relatives…that is, the “2nd uncle/nephew” formulation, instead of the confusing “cousin removed ascending/descending” system we use in English. The key feature of the Spanish system is that it describes how each collateral relative is related to you…everyone in your father’s generation is an uncle to youuncle, 2nd uncle, 3rd uncle, etc. Everyone in your son’s generation is some type of nephew to you….then grand uncles for your grandfather’s generation, grand nephews for your grandson’s generation, and so on.

79.2  On the other hand, the English system literally describes how a collateral relative of yours is related to someone else…then it must be inferred how that someone else is related to you. For example, “3rd cousin twice removed” means your grandfather’s 3rd cousin…and this individual is related to you because your grandfather is related to you, as your father’s father. Ultimately, it amounts to the same thing as in Spanish, except that in English all generations are your “cousins.” But in everyday life, you’re likely to call your father’s 1st cousin your “uncle,” not your “cousin”…and sure enough, in Spanish he is your uncle…your 2nd uncle.

79.3  But you may have noticed that sometimes when I recommended this Spanish terminology, I made it clear I wasn’t recommending the Spanish kinship system in its entirety…because it has its own unenviable quirks, and now you know what they are…no agreement as to how to describe relatives as basic as your direct line…your father’s father, your father’s grandfather, your grandfather’s grandfather, etc. English is as straightforward as could be…”father” is back up the tree, “son” is down…and to go further, start with grand, then add a great for each successive generation. Repetitive, but pithy…completely logical and universally understood. We got it from the Germans.

79.4  But whereas the great/grand compounds begin after the father/son generations…with grandfather and grandson…in Spanish they do not…there are separate words for grandfather…abuelo…and grandson…nieto. That’s 4 different words (padre, hijo, abuelo, nieto)…because Latin had 4 different words…OK, hardly the end of the world. Start the compounds after the grandfather/grandson generations. And they do, with bisabuelo and bisnieto for great grandfather and great grandson. But then what? A different compound, either tatara-  or rebis- for the great great grand generation…and after that? Multiple tatara-‘s…or else ordinals like cuarto–, qunito-, sexto-, etc. Notice that as a result, the T’s for tatara-‘s are always 2 less than the G’s for greats.

79.5  Or else you can start the ordinals with great grandfather as segundo abuelo. The Guardians of Spanish Language Purity support that method, but they are hopelessly ignored, or not, either by custom or whim. And then those kooky Chozno‘s make their entrance. As a practical example of the resulting Babel, consider this website…Justificacion de Porque Todos Somos Primos. I confess I can’t make out whether this person is trying to make a valid point about kinship theory, or is just a crackpot. Google’s “English” translation is no help…altho it does yield some amusing whoppers, like “16 new-born ancestors”…”We jumped a family”… and “Today it is very strange marriage between uncle and sob flour.”  BTW, did you know that “When they marry together 2 first cousins, their children lose a grandparent”…which almost makes sense in a loopy sort of way. But what the heck are “April 31th grandparents”…???

79.6  The above excerpts are all plucked from Julio Cesar Garcia Vasquez’ thesis, and if you contrast and compare, you’ll see no rhyme or reason. Notice now that chozno is not simply a special word for a degree of grandson but is also applied, unfettered and unsullied, to a degree of grandfather. And we spy still more terms, not in our basic Chart 272 listing…trisabuelo, tris-abuleo, bischozno, trischozno, tatarachozno…is there no end?  Alas, read on…

79.7  This is hardly a recent phenomenon…our next set of excepts (above) are from a book of Spanish grammar published in 1902…add to our hyper-inflated vocabulary bis-abuelo for bisabuelo…both tri-abuelo and triabluelo…tras-abuelo and trasabuelo…and the double-hyphenated tras-bis-abuelo for trabis–well, you know. Uncles and nephews get in on the fun with bis-tio, bistio, tri-tio, tritio, bis-sobrino, and, you guessed it, bissobrino. Bssssssssss indeed! But as the infomercial pitchmen say, We’re Not Done Yet!

79.8  Because there’s one school of thought out there that would retreat back one ancient civilization, from the Romans to the Greeks… with pentabuelo, hexabuelo, heptabuelo, etc. I wouldn’t mind if it were just one outpatient make these suggestions, but, for example, pentabuelo gets 551 Google hits, which is 551 too many. ¿¿¿ What, no tetra- ??? Notice also, 7 different choices for great great grandfather, while only 6 are given for great great grandson. And if neither trasabuelo nor trisabuelo suit your fancy, try tresabuelo on for size.

79.10  But what makes this mess all the worse is the fact that unlike in English, where “grandfather” contracts to “grand” to form “grand uncle,” your grandfather’s brother…in Spanish, the whole  “grandfather” word, whatever it may be, is used …as in great grand uncle being literally “great grandfather uncle.” And so, for example, which is it for your 3rd great great grand uncle, the 2nd cousin of your great great grandfather…tio tatarabuelo tercero…tio rebisabuelo tercero…tio trasbisabuelo tercero…tio tercer abuelo tercero… or even tio abuelo tercero tercero for gosh sakes. It certainly gets dark early around here, doesn’t it?

79.11  Yes, Spanish simplifies the compounding of collateral terms…English uses both “removed” and “grand/great”…Spanish limits it to just “grand/great.” But lacking the streamlined convention of just those 2 words…great and grand…it ends up flying all over the place. The embarrassment of riches that plagues your direct line spills over into your collaterals, up, down, and sideways, tios y sobrinos.

79.12  You know, it gets so crazy, it almost makes me think I’m missing something…still, you must come back to the fact that in English, there is simply no other way to say “great great grandfather”…except for abbreviations like “2G grandfather” and “2nd great grandfather.” Using the terms “2nd uncle” and “2nd nephew” in English is not so much a translation from Spanish per se, as an adaptation of the idea…as we have seen, literal translation couldn’t be more unwieldy.  Ironically, then, the Spanish language method of denoting collateral relatives is a good fit when adapted into English…but not so good a fit within Spanish itself. Still, people can get used to anything…consider “significant other”…or Spiro Agnew…


79.13  But I believe I promised you some grand cousins, nez pah? The method of using “grand” and “great” to count both forward and backward in your direct line is a very succinct one, compared to the other example we’re been examining…obviously. It could be further simplified by calling your father’s father your “great father,” and your son’s son your “great son”…and it wouldn’t surprise me if a language in the Germanic family does just that. In fact, English does that with “great uncle” for your father’s uncle, your grandfather’s brother. Genealogists prefer, and many native speakers of English naturally say, “grand uncle” instead…and indeed, one of the best arguments for “grand uncle” over “great uncle” is that we have a “grandfather,” but no “greatfather.”

79.14  If you ever wondered why we don’t extend the great/grand beyond father/son/uncle/nephew, it’s due to an asymmetry that you probably never noticed, altho you’ve used these English kinship terms since you learned to talk. And that asymmetry is this: your son’s brother is called your “son”…but your father’s brother is not called your “father”…but instead your “uncle.” So who would be your “grandbrother”? Now we have the same ascending/descending ambiguity as with “1st cousin once removed,” but passing over that, your “grandbrother” could be your uncle…and also your brother’s son, what we would call your nephew.

79.15   But now, your son and your “grandbrother” are of the same generation…indeed they are 1st cousins….which is to say, your grandson and your “grandbrother” are of different generations. So the grands are now out of whack…going down one more, your grandson and “great grandbrother” are of the same generation, as are, going up, your grandfather and your “great grandbrother” (your grand uncle). This defeats the purpose of lining up generations based on the number of greats and grands…and it’s no wonder this terminology never developed. The same disconnect that occurs with “grandbrothers” affects any attempt at “grandcousins” as well.

79.16  The way out of this would be to call your grandfather’s brother your “grandbrother”…but then what would that person be to your father? Not to mention your father’s brother to you? Going the other way, your son’s brother could be your “grandbrother,” but then all your sons would be your “grandbrothers,” as they are all brothers to each other. Well, the answer to the first part could be “uncle”…and as to the second part, if your son’s brother is your “grandbrother,” your brother’s son would have to be something else…maybe your “nephew”…or should that be “grandcousin,” since he is your son’s cousin…except then what is your cousin’s son? At any event, we’re back to uncles and nephews, so expanding the great/grand compounds landed us nowhere. Nope, the English language had it “right” the first time…and who said it isn’t “logical”?  😉 😉

79.17  Still, never say never, as they say. I found Chart 275 while researching this stuff. Left-clicking on it will make it larger and easier to see. We tend to associate Romance Languages with countries…Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy. Interestingly, and I didn’t know this, Romanian is also derived from Latin. But there are many other Romance Language, among them Aragonese, Arpitan, Asturian, Catalan, Corsican, Friulan, Galician, Ladino, Leonese, Lombard, Mirandese, Neapolitan, Occitan, Piedmontese, Romansh, Sardinian, Sicilian, Venetian and Walloon. Many of these are often thought to be dialects of other more widely spoken languages, even by those who speak them…but apparently linguists consider them all true languages, due to differences in grammar and vocabulary, as well as pronunciation.

79.18  Chart 275 was said to be the kinship terms of the Asturian language…altho it is in fact written in Spanish. I present it here as I found it, with 2 changes…the founding anscetor of each “cousin line” has been moved over and connected downward…as seen above on the right…on the left is a map showing the location of the what is today the Spanish provence of Asturias.

79.19  And whoever put this diagram together was getting a little punchy near the end, as there are 4 errors on the far right  side (in yellow). Above in pink are the corrections. And as you peruse this fascinating chart, it will be helpful to understand the abbreviations used here for Spanish ordinals. As in English, it is simply the numeral followed by the last 2 letters of the word. 2nd is 2do for segundo…3rd is 3er for tercer when used before a singular masculine noun, 3ro for tercero in all other cases…4th is 4to for cuarto…then continuing with -to for quinto and sexto.

79.20  I have translated Chart 275 into English as Chart 276…and what we find is sort of a hybrid between the Spanish and English kinship systems. As in Spanish, there are no “cousins removed”…generations up and down are instead indicated by great/grand…in Spanish, the non-contracted grandfather (abuelo) and grandson (nieto) and their compounds. But instead of these collaterals being uncles and nephews…2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc….they are cousins! The ascending/descending ambiguity doesn’t come into play, since direction is shown by the 2 forms of “grand”…abuleo and nieto.

79.21  But now, the first level of great/grand is indicated by “uncle/nephew,” used as an adjective instead of as a noun! Thus your 2nd cousin’s son is your nephew 2nd cousin…while your 2nd cousin’s  father is your uncle cousin (that is, uncle 1st cousin)…and his father is your grand uncle. Yes, sometimes uncle/nephew is the modifier, sometimes its what’s being modified. Didn’t see that coming, I betcha. And as in English, using for example the “cousin line” for your 4th cousin, down from him all descendants are some degree of 4th cousin, while going up from him towards your 3G grandfather, they are degrees of cousins counted backwards…3rd, 2nd, 1st…then 2G uncle, brother of your 2G grandfather, both the sons of your 3G grandfather. I have summarized these Cousin Lines in Chart  277. 

79.22  But yes, in Asturian, you do have grand cousins, up and down, as I’ve highlighted below in blue and yellow boxes respectively. The idea of exploring in detail these systems, and their origins, development, and relationship to one another, certainly appeals to me…for now, my overall plan is to find and wed an extremely wealthy widow…one who is too proud to have any husband of hers work for a living! Queries from the mailbag are overdue, and we’ll delve into the pile next week…bliss out…


Copyright © 2012 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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