#181: 20 Q’s…Dos y Dos

181.1  In the past I’ve been hard on Uncle Wiki…and Uncle Wiki deserves it. The game-plan of Wikipedia is a paradigm for digital-age wrong-headedness: the idea that any one can edit the contents…which is only in theory, since gatekeepers and key-masters will more than likely change it back. There’s an old saying: That which is guarded by all is the first to be stolen. What’s more, their notion of what is true and what isn’t is extremely wobbly…it has to be “verifiable,” by which they mean sourced from a published book or printed article…magazine, newspaper, academic journal. They will come right out and say, astonishingly, “We don’t want truth, only verifiability.” If you’re an expert in some subject, you can surely point to books and published articles that contain errors…and in this dumbed-down day and age, such bloopers are more prevalent than ever before.

181.2  Trouble is, who or what verifies these so-called verifications? Why, for example, would you doubt the authenticity of some collectable doo-dad, but not doubt the accompanying “certificate of authenticity”? Wouldn’t that certificate need it’s own certificate? Leading to what in logic is called an infinite regress…a never-ending chain of verifications of the verifications of the verifications, etc. Not that I’ve heard of anybody doing it, but  there must be a killing to be made in the manufacture of counterfeit certificates of authenticity, nez pah? But then, Wikipedia has trouble following its own guidelines, as many sources of “verification” turn out to be merely web-pages…and you know what they say: Reading it on the web is like hearing it on the telephone…so it goes.

181.3  But……….my point today is that there are even sillier digital enterprises out there, like Yahoo! Answers. Here’s how that works: a question is posed…anyone can answer…these answers are voted on, by anyone, as to which is the most “correct.” Then, to top it off, the original questioner gets to pick which they judge to be the “best answer.” And if that sounds like the student correcting his own test-paper, well duh.

181.4  Still, I thought it would be fun for the next few weeks to look at some kinship queries as fielded by Yahoo! Answers…I’ll provide the correct answers, and also critique the posted answers, bearing in mind that the difference between wisdom and ignorance is that wisdom has its limits  😉 😉  Postings will be in black italics…my comments in red. And if I happen to use it, the abbreviation OP stands for Original Post or Original Poster…the one that asks the question that gets the ball rolling…


181.5  Question: What is my second uncle’s second cousin to me? Is it even considered family? Im really curious and i have absolutely no idea. Thanks.

181.6   Best Answer: I’ve never heard of a second uncle. Then what you need to do is find out what the heck it means. Old way: dictionary. New way: google it. But do it! But if he is the brother of one of your parents, then his second cousin is also your parent’s second cousin. That would make you and the second cousin: second cousins once removed. This is right as far as it goes…if  he were the brother of one of your parents, then what follows is correct. But he isn’t such a brother, so in the end it’s wrong.

181.7  If this uncle is an uncle by marriage (married to your parent’s sister), then you are not related to him except by marriage, and you are not related to his second cousin, either.  In questions of kinship, this goes without saying…I assume they are asking about blood relatives, unless they indicate otherwise. “Is it even considered family?” hints that maybe this is only by marriage, but there’s no way to tell. Comes to that, there’s no way to tell if the questioner is using the terms “second uncle” and “second cousin” correctly, but we can only assume so and proceed from there. But you don’t have to be related to someone in order to consider them “family.” If he feels like a family member, then he is one, whether you have a common ancestor or not. This is a very generous and cheerful note to end on, except we are talking about family here, biological, genealogical, connected by blood ties…otherwise everybody is everything to everybody else…what fun is that?

181.8  Answer #2: Work out if and who you have as a common blood ancestor, then you can work out if you have any relationship or not……….. I have no problems with “infinite ellipses”…use ’em myself………..sparingly, but I use ’em. But this isn’t very helpful, is it? The questioner obviously hasn’t the first idea of how to “work it out.” “second uncle” is not a relationship I have ever heard of…………..  It didn’t happen this time, but I’ve even seen where an answerer will flat out declare there is no such thing as a second uncle, simply because they’ve never heard of it. Pretty ignorant, but in keeping with the ego-driven tenor of the times. Even more “helpful” is when an answerer says: I don’t know, as if anybody cares…

181.9  Answer #3: Second uncle is a confusing term. Only if you let it be, my friend…you have the power! Do you mean a sibling of a parent that was second in birth order? That wouldn’t change anything or be any different than your parent or their other siblings. Well, to state the obvious, how likely is it that the questioner has 3 uncles, and knows how he is related to the 2nd cousin of his first uncle, and to the 2nd cousin of his third uncle, but not to the 2nd cousin of his second uncle? Sheesh. Or do you mean the brother of a grandparent? That’s called a great uncle (or grand uncle by some). Being a sibling of your grandparent, they would have the same cousin relationships as your grandparent.  Again, this is correct as far as it goes, but guessing what “second uncle” means is just that, a guess. And in this case, a wrong one. If you mean the second husband of a parent’s sibling, then their cousins are not related to you. You don’t share a common ancestor. Ditto.

181.10  Answer #4: Your grandfather’s second cousin is Your mom’s/dad’s second cousin once removed. Your second cousin twice removed. Yet again, correct but irrelevant, since that’s not what a second uncle is. If the cousin in question isn’t related to your grandparent, he/she isn’t related to you. You are probably wrong about “second cousin”, too. Completely wrong, since grandparents don’t enter into it…and rather discourteous as well…play nice, sez me.

181.11  My Answer: The term “second uncle” is rarely seen in English but it does exist…taken from the Spanish term “tio segundo” referring to your parent’s first cousin, what genealogists in English call your “1st cousin once removed ascending.”

To then figure somebody’s “Xth cousin’s Yth cousin,” you take whichever number X or Y is larger. So your parent’s 1st cousin’s 2nd cousin would also be your parent’s 2nd cousin. In English, you call that your “2nd cousin once removed ascending” or more simply, again from Spanish, your “third uncle.”

181.12  The second part of my answer addresses what was the ultimate question: how to determine how your cousin’s cousin is related to you. The first part confirms that there is indeed such a thing as a “second uncle,” and it’s now up to the original questioner to see if that’s what they meant. If you’re interested, this topic is covered here and here, with real-life examples of the “second uncle” usage in English. Chart 638  compares English (black) and Spanish (green) terminology…then translates the Spanish into English (red), a goal to shoot for IMHO…

chart 638jpg

181.13  Really, the Spanish terminology has a lot going for it…it recognizes that what I call your “numbered” or “straight” cousins…that is, your 1st cousins, 2nd cousins, 3rd cousins, etc. …are of your generation, descended from common ancestors by the same number of steps as you are. They are in fact the only cousins you have…removed cousins are somebody else’s cousins…and the Spanish logic is to not call them yours if they aren’t yours…sure, language isn’t always logical, but it’s nice when it is! As you can see in Chart 638, this simplifies kinship immensely…and also reflects everyday practice, where your parent’s 1st cousin is sort of an uncle to you, in the same way your parent’s sibling is. Can English change? It does all the time…like the recent “issues” replacing “problems”…but only if enough people care about streamlining English kinship terminology and start using the “new” terms. More next week…

wicked ballsy


“Cups and Saucers” is a one-act musical satire dating back to the Gilbert & Sullivan era, altho not written by them. The fashion in those days was to give the patron a long night at the theater, so the main performance would come after one or more shorter “curtain-raisers”…the way movies used to be preceded by cartoons and newsreels. This sketch poked fun at the Victorian fad for collecting china sets, and the lyrics are from a song paradoxically called “Foo Choo Chan was a Merchant of Japan.”

What to make of the “Conan relation” mentioned in the final 2 lines? This term comes from the 1984 movie “Conan the Destroyer,” where the character Malek refers at one point to his “brother’s sister’s cousin”…an odd way to put it since his brother’s sister is also his sister, and his sister’s cousin is also his cousin. Here we also have double Conans…your brother’s 2nd aunt (i.e., the 1st cousin of one of your parents) would also be your 2nd aunt…and her sister would also be a 2nd aunt to you and your brother. So “sister of my brother’s 2nd aunt” just means “my 2nd aunt.”

“On my grandmother’s side” means this 2nd aunt is the niece of one of your grandmothers…but “by an uncle” doesn’t make much sense…an uncle would be a parent’s brother, and any 1st cousin of your uncle would thus also be 1st cousin to your parent. It could distinguish which of your grandmothers is involved, if only one of them had a son who could be your uncle…but there are simpler ways to say that. My guess is these lines weren’t thought out logically…it’s just relationships strung together to make it sound comically complicated…and keep the meter of the song!


Copyright © 2014 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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