#188: Removing Day

188.1  Today we address something that has bugged me for some time…it’s this simple question: All those people who think that your 1st cousin’s child is your 2nd cousin…what do they think removed cousins are? Because what they’re calling a 2nd cousin is actually a 1st cousin once removed…or to be completely proper, a 1st cousin once removed descending.

188.2  And I believe for a lot of them, the answer is what I’ve always assumed it was: they haven’t the foggiest notion of what removed cousins are. If they did, they’d know what 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. cousins are as well, and obviously they don’t. In my experience, people making the “2nd cousin” mistake do so simply because they don’t understand our kinship system. I have never talked to anyone making that mistake who had even the remotest idea what a removed cousin was. Occasionally, one will realize that calling their 1st cousin’s child their 2nd cousin automatically makes their parent’s 1st cousin also their 2nd cousin…but most haven’t thought that much about family trees beyond the absolute basics.

188.3   For the past several weeks, I’ve been exploring the crazy ideas people have about kinship at the Yahoo! Answers website. A question is posed, and all manner of correct and incorrect answers come forth. So I tried a site search for questions concerning 2nd cousins. As expected, some got it right, others wrong. Of those who were wrong, the vast majority didn’t bring removed cousins into it. But luckily for me, a few did…and so I have two answers to my original question…and there may be others, but it’s a start.

188.4  The first answer is that it has something to do with marriages. Now that makes a certain amount of cockeyed sense…their incorrect use of terminology has already accounted for actual removed cousins…so “removed” must apply to something else…and what else could there be? Examples…

inset 1

188.5  (A) is not “super sure”…good!…but guesses that a removed cousin is a step-child of your biological uncle or aunt. Wrong, but not an unreasonable guess. (B) believes a removed cousin is your biological cousin’s spouse…a cousin-in-law. Again wrong, but again at least they’re trying. And in both these instances, it’s a marriage that creates the removed cousin…as a step- or as an in-law. (C) seems to be saying the same thing as (B), but misses the mark…they probably don’t mean it’s your married cousin who’s your removed cousin, but  rather the person your cousin is married to…hard to tell when they can’t clearly communicate their thoughts. And speaking of which, (D)‘s answer is almost mystical…suffice it to say if Dear Abby had given answers like that, she wouldn’t have lasted a week….she would have been “one out” in a hurry, boy.

chart 658

188.6  So we know that at least some people who think your 1st cousin’s child is your 2nd cousin also think a removed cousin is either your step-cousin or your cousin’s spouse. But there’s another erroneous interpretation for removed cousins…I have no hard data, but I get the feeling this one is more common. It begins when somebody says that a 2nd cousin and a 1st cousin once removed are the same thing. And when this idea is expanded upon, what comes out is that they believe an Xth cousin Y times removed is the same as an (X+Y)th cousin…you just add everything up. Chart 658 illustrates this notion out to 4th cousin.

188.7  Let me stress that Chart 658 is wrong in two ways: 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins are wrong…and the idea that you add the numbers to get an equivalent terminology is also dead wrong. But the thinking is, as a blogger once remarked, Why say 3rd cousin once removed when you can just say 4th cousin?  In other words, 3 + 1 = 4…Keep It Simple, Stupid. And this makes sense…the relative identified as a 4th cousin can be described in 3 other ways…3C 1R…2C 2R…and 1C 3R…but why would you bother? What’s the point? It takes a perfectly simple concept…4th cousin…and complicates it for no good reason. But…since people do talk about removed cousins all the time…the correct inference here is that this “useless” interpretation must be wrong, just because it is useless, it serves no purpose. OK, lots of people can’t think that logically, but there you go…

188.8  However….the “add it up” theory of what “cousin removed” means is an interesting one, wrong as it may be…and I’d like to look at it a bit further, which, since this is my blog, I may do with blissful impunity. The thing is, “adding it up” has an undeniable internal logic to it…unlike many other goofed up kinship notions, it hangs together…it does not contradict itself.

chart  659

188.9  Look at Chart 659 and take 4th cousin as an example. It definitely is 3 steps away from a 1st cousin…hence 1st cousin 3 times removed…in green. It’s also 2 steps away from a 2nd cousin (brown), so 2nd cousin twice removed…and 1 step away from a 3rd cousin (orange), giving you, by this logic, 3rd cousin once removed. But again,  why would you ever want to express it that way? And the answer is, you wouldn’t. But let’s press on.

chart 660

188.10  The point of a system of kinship terminology is to uniquely identify everybody you’re related to, each and every twig on your family tree. So let’s expand Chart 658 outward. If for you, your 1st cousin’s child is your 2nd cousin, your 1st cousin’s grandchild is your 3rd cousin, etc…then it must be the same for your father…and in Chart 660, we do just that…your father’s cousins noted in green. The question now is, what are your father’s cousins to you? People who make this 2nd cousin mistake do so because they don’t understand kinship, and trying to expand it this way is way beyond anything they can or even want to attempt.

188.11  But let’s take a crack at it, for the sake of argument. Look at 3 people…your father, your father’s 1st cousin, and you. What do you have? A pair of 1st cousins and the child of one of them. Now look at you, your 1st cousin, and your 1st cousin’s child. What do you have? The same exact thing! A pair of cousins and the child of one of them. Situations are the same, so relationships must be the same. In your case, you and the child of your 1st cousin are 2nd cousins…so in your father’s case, your father’s 1st cousin and the child of your father’s 1st cousin’s 1st cousin must also be 2nd cousins…making your and your father’s 1st cousin 2nd cousins. This is a perfect example of the patterns that repeat over and over…up, down, and across a family tree.

188.12  So your father’s 1st cousin is your 2nd cousin. Now simply apply the same cousin terminology used on the left side of Chart 660  to the side: your 2nd cousin’s child is your 3rd cousin…in this case, your 2nd cousin is your father’s 1st cousin…and your 3rd cousin is your father’s 2nd cousin…and this continues all the way down the generations. Notice that this 3rd cousin (actually your 2nd cousin using correct terminology) is of your generation…so here your generation consists of a 1st cousin, then a 3rd cousin, and if we extended it to the right…what?…a 5th cousin?….1, 3, 5, all odd numbers?

chart 262

188.13  Yes, this is exactly what happens…the infamous Odds/Evens system of kinship terminology I covered in Related How Again? #75 . This is where your odd numbered cousins are in your generation…your even numbered cousins are in your father’s generation and your son’s generation…odd numbered for your grandfather’s and grandson’s generation…and alternating up and down, as in Chart  263.

chart 263

And checking recycled Charts 262, where each number of cousin has its own color, we notice something interesting: You have 2nd cousins in 2 different places on your family tree…3rd cousins in 3 places…4th cousins in 4 places…and it will keep going like that, as you see in Chart 661.

chartt 661

188.14  And an unwieldy mess it is…let’s take 7th cousins as an example, and say Teddy Roosevelt and my grandfather were 7th cousins. This could mean…

1.  Gramps was the 4th great grandson of TR’s 1st cousin…or…
2.  Gramps was the 2nd great grandson of TR’s 3rd cousin…or…
3.  Gramps was the grandson of TR’s 5th cousin…or…
4.  Gramps was TR’s 7th cousin (i.e. the same generation)…or…
5.  Gramps was TR’s grandfather’s 5th cousin…or…
6.  Gramps was TR’s great great grandfather’s 3rd cousin…or…
7.  Gramps was TR’s 4th great grandfather’s 1st cousin…

188.15  So much for “7th cousin” pinpointing a unique spot on your family tree, nez pah? So you might say, well don’t call them 7th cousins…just use one of the 7 specific descriptions above. Trouble is, that won’t work either…take description #3…Gramps was the 2nd great grandson of TR’s 3rd cousin. Here, “3rd cousin” can refer to one of 3 different things, so description #3 refers to 3 different things…d’oh!

188.16  Bottom line: the Odds/Evens system is completely useless as a coherent system of kinship terminology. Does the nudnik who thinks their 1st cousin’s child is their 2nd cousin actually know that by doing so they’re advocating such a system? Of course not…this a perfect example of an unintended consequence. But then, that’s what happens when you literally don’t know what you’re talking about.

chart 127

188.17  One thing I ought to mention…Chart 127 shows the correct terminology for numbered cousins (your generation) and removed cousins (other generations.) And you will notice that for each removed cousin type, there is one among your ancestors, blue area…and one among your descendants, pink area. That is why you must add “ascending” for the blue and “descending” for the pink…but that’s it, system is now complete. It can’t and won’t be any more cumbersome than that. How in the world would you distinguish 7 different 7th cousins? 7th cousin 1st degree, 7th cousin 2nd degree, 7th cousin 3rd degree, and like that? And which is which? Our system is very solid and very practical…could it be better? Absolutely, because…

188.18  …a responder at Yahoo! Answers with a Hispanic last name said this regarding removed cousins: It [your 1st cousin’s child] would be like your mother’s cousin. To you it would be your cousin once removed. In my culture and family, however, my mother’s cousin would be my aunt/uncle. Specifically, they mean “2nd uncle” and “2nd aunt”…in Spanish, a 1st cousin once removed ascending is a 2nd uncle/aunt…a 1st cousin once removed descending is a 2nd nephew/niece…keeping the terminology consistent for generations above and below you. Not that the Spanish language is perfect…they have a muddled way of dealing with grands and greats, to the extent that nobody can agree just how to do it. Still, removing removeds is a laudable achievement, sez me.

wicked ballsy


The question is, how exactly is Uncle Duke related to Zonker Harris? His full name is Raoul Duke…his son Earl and his cousin David are also both Dukes. He is described by some on the net as an “uncle by courtesy”…that is, an old family friend of Zonker’s parents, an “honorary” uncle. But this strip implies otherwise.

For the record, Zonker’s full name is Edgar Zonker Harris…revealed in the 1983 musical “Doonesbury: A Musical Comedy.” I don’t believe Zonker’s parents have first names. Zonker has an unseen (so they say) sister named Louise…Zonker’s nephew Zipper Harris is her son. But could Zonker’s mother’s maiden name be Duke? Without reading every strip since 1970, I’m not prepared to bet on anything…let’s leave it at that.


Copyright © 2014 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


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