Thursday, June 25, 2009

Consanguinity: Just Call Them A Blessing

I have a linguistic question for anyone who can help.

Any decent language has special terms for all the members of one's family. In English we recognize only a very few of these. Mother, Father, Brother, Sister. So far so good.

Cousin (Is that a boy cousin or a girl cousin? Is it on the mother's side or the father's? Is it your father's sister's child, or your father's brother's child?) Cousin is not much of a word. Too ambiguous. To differentiate these necessary distinctions would require eight different words for cousin. And we need them. As soon as you say, "So and so is my cousin," someone will ask, "On which side?"

So the word cousin is pretty weak, but that is as far as English will go. After that we just get into the muddle of kinds of cousin. My cousin's children are my cousins-once-removed. To my children they are second-cousins. OK, so they are second cousins on which-which side?

English is a little lacking in consanguinity language. One would think that we would have cared, at some point, to come up with words for our relatives. But we only cared to the extent of cousins, because we weren't allowed to marry them. Unless we wanted to, and then it was alright. Our Anglo/American history is full of cousin marriages, both in royalty and in the ghetto. But that is a different subject.

I just want linguistic differentiation to make clear who is who in relation to whom.

And in these days of mulitple marriages, no amount of linguistics can keep up. Now we hear, "He is my step-cousin's mother's second husband's step son by his third wife." I don't want special words for that!

But this question is not merely linguistic. As of fifteen minutes ago I find that my ex-wife (I've had only one too many) is pregnant by her second husband after me. So, her previous kids are mine (some by genetics, some by my adoption of them). Now I want to know, what will her new children be to me? Not my children, granted. Not even second-step-twice-removed-on-the-mother's-ex-husband's-side type children. Then what?

One thing I do know. If a new child will keep her distracted long enough to let my children grow up in peace, then I'll call all the new children she can bear a blessing from the Lord!


Mary Rae said...

It does get pretty complicated. I don't think her new children can be anything but your own childrens' half siblings. Words fail us here!

Rosa said...

This subject can be confusing, especially when it comes to cousins. Sometimes, though, I am glad that cousin is such an ambiguous word; some of my "cousins" are not blood related at all, but such good family friends that we consider them to be part of the family.

Doug P. Baker said...

Words do indeed fail us, and perhaps they should!

Good point Rosa. My mom grew up with an "aunt" who was only a relation in the way that you mention. It is indeed nice that our ambiguous words allow for such inclusions.