Category Archives: Let’s Get Something Straight

You’re Not as Insightful as You Think You Are

I can find a lot of problems with the world around me, and those who know me understand that I can easily go on some long-winded rants about them. (Your prayers for those closest to me are appreciated.) But it’s not a one-way street from my perspective; I’m often interested in hearing people discuss catching similar tendencies of people around us, or having humorous-but-truthful complaints about the modern world, or some other related observation, be it serious or funny, in general.

But since “it takes one to know one,” and because I spend way too much time in my own head mulling over these kinds of things, I also get really, really bugged by generic, poorly-thought-out, boring, and often flat-out incorrect observations that are brought up time and time again by people who think they’re being clever or insightful. They’re not. They’re the intellectual equivalent of tourists at the Tower of Pisa.

Fair warning: this is going to get a little mean. But I’ve been called out for being stupid and unoriginal plenty of times in my life and I know it’s for the best in the end . . . and I also know it’s much easier to take such criticism to heart when you can quietly evaluate yourself while doing something private like reading a blog post, instead of having to tuck your tail between your legs in front of people whose opinions of you matter to you. So if you get offended here because I’m nailing you perfectly, consider it a favor and join me on the endless journey of constant self-evaluation. Now, without further ado:

YOU ARE NOWHERE NEAR AS INSIGHTFUL OR CLEVER AS YOU THINK YOU ARE WHEN YOU . . .

. . . go grammar-nazi on people “misusing” the word “literally.” Because I’ve never understood how so many people are so sure about the only proper usage of “literally” but have never learned the word “hyperbole.” Perhaps its hyperbolic use became so prevalent not too long ago that many people, only hearing it in that context, assumed it meant “figuratively,” and were shocked to learn the opposite.  When I was a kid, I recall thinking the word “barely” meant “not quite” instead of “only just.” Somehow I must have misunderstood its use in a sentence I heard and carried that with me for a while. Then I then learned what it really meant through the course of a conversation and haven’t forgotten. It happens. But the thing is, if someone were to somehow use the word “barely” in a hyperbolic or facetious statement, I’d get their meaning. I wouldn’t write them off as an idiot because they didn’t strictly adhere to its definition.

This example is first because it very clearly demonstrates the Lake Wobegon Effect among two-cent intellectuals that grates on my brain like fingernails on a chalkboard. That’s actually a common theme with these: people thinking they’ve taken one step ahead of the crowd and want to show it off, when in fact they’re completely wrong. I’ve spoken before about how hard it is for me to be in a conversation with someone when I know that the information they’re sharing is incorrect; this is that except magnified a few thousand times because so many people do it.

I’d have liked to take the time to further expand on why using “literally” as hyperbole is perfectly acceptable English, but I’d really only end up quoting this video anyway because they’ve done far more research than I have, and are a much more credible source.

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. . . talk about how stupid fat people are when they drink diet soda. Because that tells me that you just don’t know anything about diet soda drinkers. Sure, the word “diet” is in the name and that implies weight loss, but at the end of the day the people that are sticking to diet soda are people that prefer diet soda over regular sodas; their reasoning is not “I need to lose a few pounds,” but instead, “regular soda is just too sweet for me.” I’m serious. Ask around. I’ve known dozens of strict diet soda drinkers (most commonly Diet Coke®) and none of them ever popped open a can saying something akin to “gotta lose five pounds,” nor are they all or even mostly overweight. Is that to say that no one ever drank diet soda with the uninformed intention of dieting? Of course not. But I would suggest that reasoning is so uncommon that it does not warrant discussion unless you’re speaking to a person who has just admitted to thinking that way.

Okay, I admit that’s pretty anecdotal. But I hold that the person rolling their eyes at a heavy woman drinking a diet soda has less real information and far more conjecture to back up their view than I do mine.

While we’re on the topic, let me also call out all the liars who talk about seeing that “fat person,” usually a woman, in line in front of them at McDonald’s who orders half the menu (with everything Super-Sized) and then add on a Diet Coke® and justify it by explaining, “I’m watching my weight.”  That didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen when you were standing in line; it didn’t happen when you were working there; it didn’t happen that one time someone else told you about it.  Some stand-up comedian at some point in time made that up and it got repeated so much that some people began to think they witnessed it.  Sure, fat people at McDonald’s have ordered diet sodas with their meals, but they didn’t throw in the “I’m on a diet” line; refer to my previous paragraphs as their likely reasoning. (There’s also a tangent I’ll only mention in passing about how easily so many people assume that this is true because they believe fat people are stupid enough to think they can lose weight by drinking something labeled “diet” while eating a 1500-calorie meal.)

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. . . rant about how Christopher Columbus was a really bad dude and/or did not actually “discover” the Americas.

“Chris Columbus killed thousands of natives!”

“Chris Columbus was the first serial killer!”

“Chris Columbus didn’t think the world was round when the rest of the world thought it was flat!”

“You can’t discover a place where people already live!”

“And so on!”

We all know already, okay? Most of us under the age of 35 or 40 learned this in high school or earlier; most of those older than that have definitely heard about it at some point in the last 20 years. “And yet we still ‘celebrate’ Columbus Day!” you protest. Except I would argue that if it’s so hard to get people to actually memorialize anything on Memorial Day or thank a veteran on Veteran’s Day, no one is celebrating Chris Columbus on Columbus Day. It’s an excuse to have a day off from work and find some great deals on carpets. If you want to lead the charge to eliminate it or change the reason for the holiday, be my guest, but I’m tired of the internet–especially my inbox and newsfeed–filling up every October with white-guilt-laden lectures about “what you don’t know about Columbus.”

Let’s also not forget how ridiculous it is to judge people who lived hundreds of years ago based on modern morals and attitudes. Calling Columbus a “serial killer,” especially within the context of the era he lived, is an egregious misuse of the term. In another 500 years, many (or likely most) of our mainstream philosophies may likely be viewed as comical or tragically misguided at best, so let’s be rational when we read our history books.

But I get it. At some point, many people figured out how ridiculous it is that we’re “celebrating” an Italian man who sailed under the employ of Spain, landed in some islands that aren’t even part of our country, was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands and indirectly responsible for millions more, and his voyages only distantly (and also only indirectly) lead to the founding of our nation; thus he should be just a footnote in our history books and not an American hero. It’s just that we’d all be better off if we assumed everyone knows all of that (and more) instead of acting like we’re interrupting everyone’s regularly-scheduled programing to bring them some breaking news. (And you know what actually might be interesting? Learning why America turned Columbus into an American folk hero in the first place; far less cynical, wouldn’t you agree?)

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. . . say something intended for kids is terrible for kids.

The past couple decades we have increased the amounts by which we shelter and coddle our children to keep them from anything that would challenge them, (mildly) disturb them, or cause them to mature a little earlier than we’d hoped.  I’m sorry that this will end up sounding like another “kids these days!” rant, but it’s not really debated that phenomena like entitlement and helicopter parenting have been on the rise since the mid-1980’s.  Very few people consider these things to be good, but the problems continue to persist.  Why?  How can we all be speaking against something we see happening all around us, yet it shows no signs of slowing?  I think it starts by paying lip-service to the condemnation of things like helicopter parenting, and then actively condemning a “kid’s movie” for having intense scenes in them that might expect something of the kids (or, alternatively, watching a movie we saw as children and questioning our parents for letting us see it).  You know what? The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal were really scary when I was a kid, but seeing them did not turn myself nor anyone I know into a disturbed sociopath or paranoid outcast. Yet I have truthfully heard many people question their upbringing because their parents had no problem with them watching Watership Down.

Your arrogance as an adult has caused you to underestimate what kids can handle, as well as made you into a hypocrite. That doesn’t sound insightful to me.

A great example is when someone tries to shock everyone at how terrible nursery rhymes are by explaining that “Ring Around the Rosie” is really about the black plague.  Because, first of all, that’s completely wrong, and secondly: what does it matter anyway?

I feel that anyone who brings this up as fact is not likely bringing it up just to impress their friends with some interesting trivia. No, instead the conversation always involves, “isn’t it terrible that we teach this to kids? Preschoolers sing this!” I guess I’m weird for not being concerned that kids may be singing a song at recess that has a deep, hidden meaning about a centuries-old tragedy that they’d never figure out, especially if they have never heard of the Black Death.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in an era of especially dark children’s entertainment, but when someone objects to themes in a piece of children’s programming being too intense (be it hidden or obvious), I feel that person should immediately be written off as to having anything valuable to say about anything. (Cough)

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. . . when you commit the logical fallacy tu quoque. Because it’s one of the lesser-cited logical fallacies, but one of the most common (if not *the* most common) today–certainly on the internet–and it’s a complete non-statement in response to anything it’s a rebuttal to.

Let’s say that in the course of an argument in a comment section, Person A makes a case for why the Oxford comma is entirely unnecessary by saying, “u dont even needs the coma its juts bad grammer lol.”

In response, Person B, an Oxford comma apologist, retorts, “Why should anyone think you’re right about something like the Oxford comma when you don’t even know how to construct a proper English sentence?”

My tendency is to agree with Person B on his support of the Oxford comma, and I also agree with the sentiment that Person A has no ground to talk about grammar when they obviously don’t understand grammar in the first place.  However, Person B has made no case whatsoever as to why the Oxford comma IS necessary.  They have simply observed the hypocrisy of Person A.  Nothing was added to this debate or topic as a result.

Here’s a recent real-world example.  Not long before writing this, one of the stars of the popular reality show Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson, was suspended by the network A&E for stating his beliefs about homosexuality in an interview.  Naturally the internet erupted in a firestorm over “freedom of speech” vs. “tolerance.” At least one person in my Facebook newsfeed responded to the outrage by posting an old image of the Dixie Chicks protesting the war in Iraq, with the following text: “The same people who censored and protested the Dixie Chicks right to free speech opposing the war 10 years ago . . . are the SAME people fighting for the Right of FREE SPEECH today. Ironic.” This is an example of tu quoque.

The tricky thing about tu quoque is that any given instance of it almost always sounds like it’s a great point.  “Hmm, you know, it is mostly conservatives upset over the suspension of that Duck guy, and it WAS conservatives who boycotted the Dixie Chicks back in the George W days . . . interesting.”  Except what is the point?  Let’s take the time to break down what this actually says.

So people upset over the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s suspension are, according to this assessment (which we will presume true for the sake of argument), guilty of hypocrisy because years ago they spoke out *against* the right to free speech of some once-beloved musical artists. What does this tell us? It tells us exactly that, and only that.  These people are hypocritical.  Fine.  Except the issue at hand is not whether or not these people were consistent with their positions on inalienable rights, but instead the issue is whether or not Phil Robertson had the right to say what he did vs. if A&E was right to suspend him for it.  The person who posted that thing about the Dixie Chicks gets to walk away thinking that they’re bright and profound for calling out the hypocritical conservatives, but they neglected to actually discuss the issue at all.

This was my thought process in reaction to the Dixie Chicks post, and it essentially is my thought process every time I see this logical fallacy: “Do they think that free speech is WRONG?  Well, I doubt it, but that’s certainly the implication. If they believe free speech is a good thing, why are they condemning people for supporting it?  Shouldn’t they be glad that these peole finally came around? Wait . . . are they saying that because conservatives didn’t respect free speech 10 years ago that now no one has the right to stand up for free speech?  This is very confusing.”

And so on.  I could write on this error for days if I let myself, though I would stop covering new ground pretty quickly; so we’ll leave it at that.

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BONUS ENTRY!

Here’s one more that doesn’t exactly fit this theme but is definitely related.

It’s about when someone makes an error or is a “two-cent intellectual” in a mass-distributed form of media and is called out for it. Instead of taking a step back and partaking in my beloved activity of self-evaluation, they justify their clear errors or poor judgment by saying, “It’s just entertainment.

People do this to defend the poor science behind the cited-as-health-gospel documentary Super-Size Me.  “Spurlock set out to make an entertaining documentary and he succeeded.”

People do this when they make a Youtube video filled with generic and/or incorrect “interesting facts” and their commenters hold them accountable for it. “So I’ve seen a bunch of comments on this video from people over-analyzing some of these facts. . . . Stop over-thinking everything and just have fun. . . . It’s meant to be entertainment. Treat it that way.”

People do this when The Onion makes a joke that’s considerably tasteless and people complain.  “It’s The Onion! It’s not meant to be taken seriously!”

However, the logic is as poorly thought out as the content.  You have presented some kind of media to the world–be it a Youtube video or a documentary or a humorous article; be it your original creation or something you’re sharing with others.  Except the information does not pass close scrutiny.  Now you’re in trouble.  You’ve been revealed to be someone who just takes things at face value because they are either easy or support your biases, or to be an outright liar, and it’s kind of embarrassing.  So what’s the response?  “Hey! This is not meant to be some kind of academic journal entry or anything! It’s meant to be fun!”

There are two problems with this, and both demonstrate how you thought out your defense about as much as you thought out the information in question.

First, the entertainment value of something presented in the spirit of, “ZOMG! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS THING I’M GOING TO SHOW YOU!” is heavily influenced by how true it really is. (I wanted to say they “the entertainment value of factual content is directly proportional with how true the facts are,” but I’ve seen too many factually-sound PBS documentaries to try to support that claim). If you give me ten facts about H.G. Wells that are supposed to blow my mind, and it turns out every single one of them are made up, I’m not entertained by what you’ve presented. At best I’m apathetic, but if it’s actually ME we’re talking about, I’m irrationally bugged for weeks. Regardless, I am not entertained, Maximus.

Second, if the content of said media is truly “just entertainment,” then nothing you’ve presented has any bearing on anything and is as worthless as burnt paper. If you lecture me for eating McDonald’s because you saw a movie about a guy who ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days and his health fell apart, and then I could easily demonstrate to you how every conclusion he came to in that movie was exaggerated or fabricated, and then you retorted, “None of that matters–it was an entertaining movie!” . . . doesn’t that seem silly to you? The reason that information was provided in the movie was to tell people that eating fast food is far worse for them than they thought–so when people who understand the concept of too many variables can show that the information is wrong, its entire existence is suddenly unjustified.  It has no value anymore except as a reference piece in a class on how to be a snake oil salesman. How does, “well, it entertained me!” justify that?

I’m not sure, and I unfortunately know that this post isn’t going to have any effect on these things re-occuring in the future, to me or otherwise. But I guess as long as they do, I’ll always have something to complain about. And that’s something in and of itself.

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On Being an Extrovert in an Introverts-are-Victims World

I’ve recently come across a blog written by a Kentucky-based talk radio host named Matt Walsh.  He’s young, opinionated, Christian, and fairly conservative or libertarian or something.  Whatever it is, reading his stuff is often like reading a much smarter, more articulate version of myself.  (What an interesting mix of surprise and not-surprise-at-all when I learned that he was a fan of Ron Paul).  I was planning on doing a blog post about how so many people, especially people without children, seem to consciously refuse to understand how children are and what parents can do to “control” them.  It was going to be based on some ignorant comments I got in an ill-advised, YouTube-based argument I had a few weeks ago, but I’m not going to write it now because Matt Walsh nailed it better than I could have.  So read that.  Then come back and we’ll proceed.

So he wrote a post that dealt with three different topics.  The first was homeschooling vs. public schools, then there was our society’s faux “diversity,” and lastly there was a discussion on his introversion and how it is to live in what he perceives to be an extroverts’ world.  This, as was the case several times before, was something that I’d meant to get around to writing about.  Except this time I landed on the opposite side of where he was coming from.  I’m a very extroverted person, and over the last year or so I’ve learned more about what “extrovert” really means other than just being a person who feels energized by socialization.  The more I’ve learned, the more irritated I’ve become at the audacity that so many “introverts” seem to have about how poorly treated they are by society, and how “extroverts just don’t get them.”  In a broad sense, I compare this to how Feminists have written the rules for accepted gender interaction in our culture over the last several decades, but will still blame everything on “patriarchy” and don’t stop to consider what kinds of issues men face.  Though please understand that’s an extreme comparison and I get considerably less angry by the introvert/extrovert thing.

Since Walsh so perfectly set up the kinds of points I was intending to react against, I left a lengthy comment discussing and defending extroverts such as myself.  It’s gotten a surprising amount of praise from both self-described introverts and extroverts, and I like it enough that I’m going to share the meat of it here.  What follows is a mildly-expanded version of the numbered points of my comment.

This is addressed to any introverts who think that extroverts don’t understand them, drain them, and/or confuse them:

1. In social situations I have a nearly-uncontrollable desire to be liked.

Not to be the center of attention–that person hogging all the attention is not demonstrating their extroversion but instead their insecurity. No, I just need to not feel like the other people around would prefer I leave. To the point that if, at the end of a given interaction, it seems that I’m not thought of well, it can haunt me for days and in some very real cases, years. As an introvert your reaction to this is likely dismissive, saying, “you shouldn’t care what other people think!” Save it. I’ve heard that since middle school and spent nearly two decades of my life feeling bad because other people’s impressions of me is something that I can’t help caring about. A lot. I can’t let go of that any more than you can just suck it up and learn to love meaningless small talk.

2. Extrovert is not synonymous with party animal.

When it’s said that extroverts need to be around people to feel energized, many introverts imagine someone like me needing to hop into a massive party and dance the night away to techno music while downing Jaegerbombs and filling the gaps with huge, steaming piles of useless, surface interactions. That could not be farther from the truth.  I can’t speak for all extroverts but I can say that large gatherings are worse than being alone to this extrovert. Recently my wife and daughter took a trip away for a week while I stayed home. I got sick right before they left and as a result spent several miserable days at home alone with next to zero interaction with anyone. By the end of it I felt some considerable depression settling in. Thankfully a cookout had been planned by a small group of friends and I was able to attend. I got re-energized in the best way possible by spending quality time with a handful of people I like, and we simply ate and talked. We talked about politics, pop culture, nerd culture, and personal stories and shared memories. If that gathering instead had been a large number of people interacting on only a superficial level, I would have been worse off than if I’d stayed home. I need interaction and socialization to feel energized, but it has to be real and meaningful.

3. Do you get exhausted by your extroverted friends? Guess what. . . .

I wish I had known more about all this introversion/extroversion stuff when I was in college because in those days my closest friends were at least in part introverted, in the proper sense. If I had my way, we’d have spent every possible second hanging out and talking and laughing both in large and small groups. Instead I was regularly made to feel awkward by these friends (and somewhat shameful, though not intentionally on their parts) because they would get “peopled out” and need to spend a weekend in or something. That’s fine for them but I always felt drained and abandoned at the sheer mention of this. We extroverts don’t always have a couple spare sets of extrovert friends waiting in the wings to spend time with us when the introverts need some alone time.  As an adult now I understand that this is just the nature of things when introverts and extroverts are friends and compromises need to be made for everyone. But the point is that if you feel drained by extroverts, understand that it goes both ways. (And which do you think is easier?  To insist on more alone time?  Or to insist that your friends spend more time with you?)

4. Extroversion is not synonymous with confidence.

I’ve been a socially averse and shy person my whole life. Not a great combination with extroversion, let me assure you. I’ve had plenty of people that I’m comfortable around make the incorrect assumption that I can walk into any social situation and own it, because that’s how I am around them. I’ve also been annoyed by people I don’t know who observe how quiet I am around them and assume that I “must be introverted and needs to be left alone.” This is currently a problem area for me because my church is one that is huge on being outward-focused, so a lot of emphasis is placed on meeting new people on Sunday mornings and not just chatting with your friends before and after service. But my shyness (and fear of not being liked or coming across as awkward–see #1) regularly prevents me from doing this. I’m still riling over a handful of terrible examples of such interactions that took place about ten years ago, too (see #1), so that’s another hurdle.

5. Extroverts often need to process externally.

Do you find that, in order to finish your creative or critical ideas, you need some quiet time alone? Well I have found that I can only ever get so far with a story idea, or a song idea, or with mapping out my thoughts on a social, theological, or political issue, by working on it by myself. I have to discuss it with someone else, or tell someone about it, and as I walk through it to them the ideas fall into place, I work out kinks in the logic, and I can begin to find some structure. I have a LOTR-style fantasy story I’ve slowly developed since I was 12, and the times I’ve filled in the biggest gaps and ironed out the biggest plot holes were the times I convinced a friend to let me tell them about it. The bands I had in the past–the best songs I wrote we’re ones that came about by interacting musically with my band mates. I’ve not been in a band for 9 years, now, and I’ve only finally been able to write again in the last two months. It took that long to figure out how to do it 100% alone. I’ve known songwriters who can write whole albums by locking themselves in a room for a weekend–take a guess if they were introverted or extroverted. So maybe that extrovert isn’t wasting your time, but is trying to work and process through something. That said I don’t defend people needlessly talking to strangers. That annoys me. Don’t get me started on strangers at work asking me about my lunch.

In conclusion, before you go off about how the world thinks that all introverts are creepy loners, take time to see if  you’re doing what so many others do and viewing extroverts as inch-deep blabber mouths who can’t get through the day without going energy-vampire on some poor, innocent introvert at the coffee shop.  Half of being understood is understanding those around you better.

Let’s Get Something Straight: Cousins

I don’t consider myself a pedant, though sometimes I can’t help but appear as one.  I don’t care if people think I’m smart (which is the motive of a true pedant), I just can’t stand the idea of people moving blindly through life in their (easily corrected) ignorance.  This usually happens with grammar, with a fairly wide “bite-my-tongue-or-not” scale.  On the low end would be someone not using the word “whom.”  It’s easy to let that one go.  On the higher end would be someone saying something like, “While you’re there, could you also pick up some napkins for she and I?”  Grumble.  Yet it’s not just grammar . . . another area is music: such as a particular chord being called a “C2” instead of a “C(add9),” or needless usage of slash chords, like writing “F/D” instead of just writing “Dm7,” or calling the gap between the 6th and 7th degrees of a harmonic minor scale a “minor 3rd” instead of an “augmented 2nd.”  Another area is badly informed pop culture trivia . . . like the time some guy told me in the utmost confidence that the first Die Hard movie came out in the late 90’s, or when someone told me that they knew for a fact that Johnny Depp finished some of Heath Ledger’s scenes from The Dark Knight.

As you can see, these categories are becoming more and more ridiculous . . . but I can’t help it.  It eats at my very being.  Eventually, I have to speak up.

So this brings us to possibly the oddest one . . . naming of cousins using degrees and removals.  I think the popular aversion to properly labeling our cousins stems not only from its seeming complexity, but from the fact that 21st century American culture (and I would imagine much of the Western world) doesn’t keep track of family beyond first, and maybe second, cousins.  Add to that fact the rather confusing nature of how to properly label someone who is a cousin, and you end up with people not ignoring the system altogether, but misusing it.

Well it is my goal that after you have finished reading this post, you will have a thorough understanding of how to correctly determine your relation to that girl you almost asked out before she mentioned that you’re related somehow.

Let’s begin.

First, you need to know the difference between a DEGREE and a REMOVAL.

DEGREE:
A degree is likely the more familiar term.  In the context of a cousin relation, it is the “first” in “first cousin” or “third” in “third cousin,” etc.  It means how many branches out the individual is in your family tree from you.  From what I can tell, you and your first cousin are such because that is the FIRST time in the descent of your common ancestral line that two people are cousins at all, in a horizontal sense.  You and your second cousin are such because it is the second time, your parents being the first.  And so on with third, fourth, etc.

REMOVAL:
A removal is the more confusing part, but you’re likely familiar with phrases like “second cousin, twice removed.”  This is the vertical movement in the family tree, whereas a degree is horizontal.   It is a shift either up or down through a generation (or we could say a “degree”).  And that is, of course, “generation” in the family sense, where grandpa and grandma are one generation, mom plus your aunts and uncles are the next, you and your siblings and first cousins are the next, and all of your kids are the next, etc.  So a “second cousin, twice removed” is someone who is the grandchild (or grandparent) of your second cousin–or, another way of looking at it, they are the first cousin of your grandparent.

The most commonly made mistake I see is people referring to the child of their first cousin as their second cousin.  This is incorrect.  YOUR child will be second cousins with that child.  YOU, however, are a first cousin, once removed to them, and vice versa.

I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs to further explain how this works, but illustrations work really well for this.  Plus I get to make stuff in Excel.

So, to start, this is our simplified family tree, where we pretend that the only people in your family that had more than one child for two generations back and three generations forward were your grandparents.

Degrees (first cousin, second cousin, etc.) only occur in a horizontal sense.

So as you can see, your child and your first cousin’s child are second cousins, and your great-grandchildren are fourth cousins.  This is exactly in the same sense as YOUR second cousin is the child of your parent’s first cousin, and YOUR fourth cousin is the great-grandchild of your great-grandparent’s first cousin (or, if you wish, the great-great grandchild of your great-great-great uncle).

Now, what is your relation to your first cousin’s great-grandchild?

Since we’re going down in generations, it will be easiest to first determine the degree.  We must ask, “what degree of cousin is this individual descended from?”  Well . . .

First degree.

We should note here that this means anyone directly descended from your first cousin will always be a “FIRST cousin, X-times removed” to you (and you to them).  Likewise, anyone descended from your second cousin is a “second cousin, x-times removed” to you, and so on.  We’ve determined that this individual is some kind of first cousin, so now we need to find how many removals there are.

So how many removals are there?

Three.

Your relation to your first cousin’s great-grandchild is FIRST COUSIN, THRICE REMOVED.  Or “three times removed” if you don’t want to sound pretentious.

“Hold on,” you might be saying if you’re observant enough.  “That could also be ‘fourth cousins, thrice removed’ if you start with the first cousin’s great-grandchild’s relationship to your great-grandchild, and then remove back to you.”  That is true, but the smaller degree available is always considered the degree.

Let’s do one more so we can be sure that we’re all taking this home today.

What’s your great-grandchild’s relation to your first cousin’s grandchild?

We’re now going up in generations.  The relation is the same in either direction, but this time it will be easier determining the removal first, by going up one generation to your grandchild, and then determining what degree of cousins they are.

For the sake of brevity I’ve done both steps here:

So your great-grandchild will be third cousins, once removed, to your first cousin’s grandchild.

It’s interesting how distant these relations get with relatively small numbers involved.  A few years ago I met a woman on Facebook who was a distant cousin.  She knew her lineage better than I knew my own, so we both traced our ancestors back until we found a common ancestor.  We’re sixth cousins (no removals).  That means our first common ancestors are our great-great-great-great-great grandfather and grandmother.  I don’t know much about that grandmother, but that grandfather was born in the 1710’s or 1720’s and emigrated to Pennsylvania from modern-day western Germany as a boy with his parents.  She and I are each seven generations descended from two of his sons, which makes us, as I said, sixth cousins–which to me seems like a small number for over 250 years of descent.

So I hope this has been informative.  There’s a lot to it, I know, and I also know that not everyone finds it as fascinating as I do, and therefore have no intentions of ever trying to figure any of it out.

If that’s the case, let me offer to you a couple of wonderful terms of neutrality.

“Cousin”

“Distant cousin”

See?  Perfect.  While “cousin” by itself usually implies first cousins, it can absolutely be expanded to mean a more distant relation.  And when you want to emphasize that you are NOT first cousins, you say “distant cousins,” thus establishing that your parents are not siblings, and not bugging the heck out of me when I notice you’re using the wrong terms.  Remember, we all play a part in making sure Braden’s brain doesn’t pop from trying to be polite.