53 Comments

  1. If he is being really pedantic, then someone who is related by marriage is called affine (like my sister-in-law’s [my wife’s sister’s] husband). But I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t call the spouse of their aunt “uncle.”

  2. Yes, he is her uncle. Though there are speech communities who do not accept that. And some who will say uncle for him but add “by marriage”.

  3. “We are brothers-in-law. Our wives are married.” Said by a character witness at a sentencing hearing I was listening to earlier this week, when asked how he knows the defendant. (The judge and attorney helped him out.)

    I wonder whether some people — maybe the same who are stingy with the uncle designation — would hesitate to say that two men whose wives are sisters are brothers-in-law. But if not, how are they related? “He’s my sister-in-law’s husband”?? Or “brother-in-law by marriage”??

  4. From the GoComics comments, some people agree with Evans but a lot don’t. I didn’t even know it was a question. I haven’t ever known anyone who didn’t consider the spouses as also aunts or uncles.

  5. I was thrown by this, too. I’ve certainly always considered the spouse of an aunt/uncle to be an uncle/aunt. Mitch’s case of the relationship between men married to sisters actually has a word for it in German. The word for a wife’s brother is Schwager. The husband of a wife’s sister would be Schwippschwager. The Schwipp- prefix seems only to apply on the spousal level. I don’t know of any Schwipponkel or the like.

  6. Targuman – ‘But I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t call the spouse of their aunt “uncle.”’

    I’m pretty sure I’d call my aunt’s wife my aunt, if I didn’t call her by name (as I do to all my aunts and uncles…a bad habit, really, but one it feels weirder to break.)

  7. Even if Toni has trouble with the concept, why dissuade Shannon from calling Brad “Uncle” if she’s so inclined? He functions as “uncle” a lot more than her father fuctions as “father”.

  8. I think they point they’re leading up to is that Brad is basically her father, not her uncle, at this point.

  9. I would tend to say that she should address Brad as “Uncle” but that technically that isn’t how a genealogist would describe him. In American English, “uncle” is an honorary term applied to any respected older male, at least in some dialects, so using it for Brad would be totally appropriate.

  10. @ DemetriosX – I’ve never heard of “Schwippschwager” as having a definite meaning for one specific type of relationship. Around here, it gets used for any sort of complicated relationship involving multiple sibling and/or marital linkages.

  11. From the 1913 unabridged Websters dictionary for “uncle”:

    1. The brother of one’s father or mother; also applied to an aunt’s husband

  12. “f he is being really pedantic, then someone who is related by marriage is called affine”

    And someone related by knship is “consanguine”. But an affine uncle is still an uncle; just not a consanguine one.

    My family’s a little weird in that we insist in refering to our first cousins once removed as first cousins once removed when nearly all other families would simply call them uncles and nieces (the affection and social connection is exactly the same.. but rules are rules.)

  13. I have a whole lot of uncles and aunts; all the uncles are by blood, all the aunts are by marriage (my mom is the only female in that generation in either family). If asked to clarify, I’ll call them uncles by blood and aunts by marriage – but only if asked to clarify, under normal circumstances I’d just say aunts and uncles.

  14. @Kilby: My description of the Schwipp- relationship is how it was explained to me and is used in my wife’s family. Her family structure is so complicated just about anybody could be described as Schwipp-. Her father essentially created the concept of the blended family back in the 50s. In my experience, a lot of Germans seem a little confused by non-nuclear family connections. I often see half-siblings referred to as step-siblings, for instance.

    I’m sure there’s a whole field of study on how words for family relations connect to the role of family in society. Uncle derives from the Latin avunculus which meant “mother’s brother” with a different word for “father’s brother”. I know Swedish has the distinction here and at the grandparent level.

  15. Most here seem not to understand why Brad is not considered an uncle, and yet it is tagged as a comic I don’t understand. So I guess that I don’t understand the comic I don’t understand tag, if you can understand this comment.

  16. Check that. It’s tagged as NOT a comic I don’t understand. In my defense it was an understandable mistake.

  17. Bill, people who do not always count “aunt’s husband” as “uncle” may still sanction saying “Uncle Brad” but be ready with a verbal footnote that he is some sort of courtesy uncle or honorary uncle, like other such who are not even related by marriage but friends of the family. (No, I don’t mean suspected maternal liaisons.)

  18. I think of my ex-wife’s nieces/nephews as my own, although if they come up to me and call me “Uncle padraig” it’s usually because they need something….

  19. I used to be annoyingly proud of myself for having mastered the “nth cousin m times removed” terminology. Until I realized it was supposed to be symmetric, and my formulation didn’t say what to do about n when m is nonzero.

    To keep it simple, assume the parentage graph is an acyclic directed graph, i,e, a tree, and that we aren’t even distinguishing “have one ancestor in common” from “have one ancestral couple in common” — so, not dealing in half-relations.

    Okay, given two people with a common ancestral couple, those ancestors are a certain (positive integer) number of generations above each of our subjects. Woops, I seem to have reserved m and n for the calculated results, so need a couple new letters for these generational distances. Let’s say the common ancestors are P generations above first subject and Q generations above second subject.

    If P and Q are both small, we have in English some special cases. P = Q = 1 giives “siblings”. P = 1 and Q = 2 gives uncle/aunt and niece/nephew. P = 1 and Q > 2 gives (Q-1)-times great uncle/aunt and same times great niece/nephew.

    If both P,Q > 1 we are into cousins.

    If P=Q, then the subjects are nth cousins where n=P. And there is no “removed” tag. And it is fully symmetrical “I am her nth cousin”, “She is my nth cousin” and “We are nth cousins”.

    If unequal, say P < Q, then if we say they are nth cousins m times removed, we get m by m = Q-P. But is n=P-1 or n=Q-1? I think it would have to be n=P-1, otherwise we would never get "first cousins m times removed". But would that also hold for "she is my nth cousin m times removed" and "I am her nth cousin m times removed" , or would one of them be based on that subject's generational distance from the ancestral couple?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin explains this the same way but without the letters, and says "the smaller number of generations to the most recent common ancestor is used to determine the degree of the cousin relationship".

  20. Mitch4: n=min(P,Q)-1 and m=|Q-P|

    By using min() and absolute value, we ensure that the cousin naming metric is reciprocal. I am my first cousin once removed’s own first cousin once removed.

  21. Mathematical “symmetrical” is precisely what in practice is called “reciprocal”. If A is something to B then B is the something to A. Mathematical “reciprocal” means if A acts upon B (or vice versa) the result is neutral or the identity. I think mitch *DID* mean symmetrical (and reciprocal).

    In the early 30’s my grandfathers family (his mother and two brothers) moved to a small community which concidental his 2nd cousin had also moved. My grandfathers wife and the wife of his second cousin ended up very close friends and neighbors in a remote area. As a result the christmases and easters were full of third, fourth and fifth cousin once, twice and occasionally three times removed. In particular I had a very close relationship with my third cousins once removed the yolder who were like aunts to me and the younger like first cousins.

  22. I have heard that there used to be many more people in the world than their are now. This is easily proved as follows: You are one person, a member of generation n, but you had two parents, a mother and a father, of generation n-1. Each of them had two parents, making four of generation n-2. Likewise through all the generations: 8 in generation n-3, 16 in generation n-4, etc. Thus we have a lower bound on the number of people in each generation: there must have been at least 16 in generation n-4, 32 in generation n-5, 64 in generation n-6 and so on. Assuming three generations in a hundred years, there must have been 2 to the 60th power two thousand years ago.

  23. When I saw this strip, I checked the American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary online. All three accept the husband of one’s aunt as included in the definition of “uncle,” thus qualifying Brad as Shannon’s uncle.

    Wherever the Evanses were going with this strip, it wasn’t anywhere that I recognize the dialect the characters were using.

  24. The children of my parents siblings are my first cousins.

    The children of my parent’s first cousins are my first cousins, once removed.

    The children of my first cousins are second cousins to my (non-existent) children.

    The children of two second cousins are each second cousins once removed to the other second cousin and third cousins to each other.

    Or so my dad explained to us when we asked how cousins, Michael, Billy, Pamela, and Stewart (siblings) were related to us.

    As to aunts and uncles – some people have their children call the parents friends “aunt and uncle”, so why would not the spouses of their aunts and uncles be the same. Heck, I know people whose children call former spouses of friends aunt or uncle.

  25. Meryl A – one of those statements doesn’t match the others. Your parents’ first cousins are your first cousins once removed (and you’re theirs); their children are your second cousins. Which matches with “The children of my first cousins are second cousins to my (non-existent) children” – put your parents in your place so, “the children of (your father/mother’s) first cousins are second cousins to my child Meryl”. The rest works.

  26. Mark, doesn’t this assume that your line of ancestors are totally unique from everybody else’s ancestors? Or put another way, that you are the sole descendant of your great-great-great-grandparents?

  27. ” All three accept the husband of one’s aunt as included in the definition of “uncle,” thus qualifying Brad as Shannon’s uncle.”

    It’s possible for a word to be used correctly, but for another word to be even more accurate.
    So, for example, to use a comic-strip character familiar to most, Snoopy is a dog. But, “dog” isn’t the most accurate way to describe Snoopy, because Snoopy has characteristics of a dog but also a good deal of characteristics of WWI fighter pilots, and several other things.

    Circling back, Brad is an uncle but is actually closer to a parent.

  28. They’re simply messing with Shannon. Look at the first panel, Shannon asks what they are doing, Brad says “exercising” when they are obviously vegging on the couch watching TV. Then Toni replies “That’s the rumor” to Sannon’s direct question on her being her dad’s sister. Then the no, he’s not your uncle line. Toni’s facial expression toward Brad in the last panel is also a clue. Brad’s answer of lucky is because he deeply appreciates that he has a wife with a similar sense of humor, to go with his “exercising” response.

  29. I gave up any interest in genealogy using logic similar to Mark’s, only I wasn’t interested in the absurdum aspect of it, but in the eventual meaninglessness that in something like a thousand years back, you theoretically have more ancestors than there were people living at the time. Also, your “direct” line is actually equal to any other line, and because they keep multiplying each generation, chances are you know more about a different line than your “direct” line (this was certainly the case for me, anyway); basically, it’s all meaningless — the degree of shared genes diminishes so rapidly that there is no real meaningful connection between you and any of your ancestors beyond say 4 generations (interestingly, that’s about the limit of actual ancestors you might actually be able to meet in your lifetime). We have some random 150 to 200 year old paintings of ancestors of mine — they don’t share any family name that has any meaning to me (indeed, I think we are unable to directly trace the line back to them, but they are in the family, we just lost the knowledge at some point) and the level of shared genes is trivial enough that I could probably get a similar match just at random; also, I have like 128 or 256 or 512 other ancestors exactly equally “directly” down my line — it’s meaningless!

    Yes, obviously there is a certain amount of interbreeding going on, and yes, some lines might be more interbred than others, thus you might have a more meaningful genetic connection further back, and indeed, certain generations may well be virtual clones of others, but you know, I’d rather not be boasting about how interbred my “pure” line is, if it is…

  30. “The children of my parent’s first cousins are my first cousins, once removed.”

    No. Those are your second cousins. You parent’s first cousins are your first cousins once removed. Likewise your first cousins children (which you, from their point of view would be the same relation just describe– terminology is reciprical even if … oh! *Now* I see what was meant by “symmetric”) are also your first cousins once removed.

    (Somehow I suspect you knew that and just made a typo).

    “The children of my first cousins are second cousins to my (non-existent) children.”

    That’s exactly the same as the above situation, you’ve just shifted the perspective away from you to your imaginary children.

    “As to aunts and uncles – some people have their children call the parents friends “aunt and uncle”, so why would not the spouses of their aunts and uncles be the same.”

    I’ll nitpick and say calling someone “Uncle John” doesn’t mean he *is* your uncle. If a child asked “Is Uncle John, my uncle” the correct answer would be “No, he isn’t” and “yes, he is” would be incorrect. But for eff sake the male spouse of a parent’s sibling *IS* an uncle. Unambiguously.

    ======

    “Mark, doesn’t this assume that your line of ancestors are totally unique from everybody else’s ancestors?”

    I am almost certain that was meant as a joke and the logical error really should be obvious.

    It’s akin to the old puzzle of the kid saying to the truant officer he doesn’t have time to go to school:

    He gets weekends off, that’s 2 days a week, or 104 days a year, he sleeps eight hours a day or 121 days a year. That’s 225 days. He eat three meals a day for 3 hrs a day so that accounts for 45 days. That’s 270. There’s 10 federal holidays (280) and 3 teacher days (283). There’s 2 weeks off for Christmas (297) and 1 week off for Easter (304) and 60 days off for Summer vacation (364). That leaves just 1 day for school and he did that yesterday. So he doesn’t have to go to school any more this year.

  31. Building on what James wrote, I’d say Brad was effectively her uncle before he was officially her uncle.

  32. John, I took “That’s the rumor” as acknowledgement that the “dad’s sister” question was rhetorical.

  33. From rec.arts.comics.strips:

    Someone else quotes GE’s Facebook page where he jokes about it “Dear
    Readers,Many of you spotted the typo in the Sunday XXX LUANN strip: I wrote
    “uncle” when it should have been “chunky.” Hm. Not buying that? Ok, In
    Fiji, uncles are defined differently; this trip is for my 4 readers there.
    No? Ok, here it is: “Uncle Brad” anagrams to “Cradle Bun” which is code
    for”. Oh, forget it. The truth? Gray Matter Splatter.”

  34. Here’s an anecdote: President John F. Kennedy was bragging to friends about how proud he was to be 100% Irish, all the way back. Someone said “And did you give that blessing to your own children?” The President quickly changed the subject.

    I wonder about people who are proud to be, say, 1/4 Irish but not particularly interested in the 1/2 English and 1/4 Swedish they are, or variations thereof.

    Recent research claims that some people have a certain amount of Neanderthal DNA. Well, first of all, if a person is human then he has 100% human DNA. Second, a lot of DNA is common to all mammals. Even trees have some DNA like ours. Nobody says that some people have a certain amount of tree DNA. Third, how do they know that it’s not the other way around, that some Neanderthals had a certain amount of human DNA? Fourth, does it make that much of a difference? Billy Bulger and Whitey Bulger had the same parents. One became President of the Massachusetts Senate and the other became a notorious criminal. Was that because of the Neanderthal DNA in either case?

  35. 1) Neanderthal are human. They are genus Homo, and direct ancestors of a noticeable population of modern humans. 2) The genetic markers in question only exist in those whose H. sapiens ancestors shared range with H. neanderthalis (that is to say, those with European ancestry).

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