Cousins, Grandparents and the Fleeting Nature of Life.

My conversation partner shared an interesting thought the other day. We talked about how a female cousin in Danish is a kusine while a male cousin is a fætter. She pointed out that the absence of this differentiation in languages like English probably betrayed the fact, that family relations are, or were at some point, more important to the Danes than to, for example, the British. Apparently, the Danes find the gender of your cousin important enough to develop a vocabulary that forces you to mention her sex every time you talk about her. What are they up to?

For some reason the same sort of rule applies to your grandparents. The Danes simply must know if they are on your mother’s or your father’s side of the family. Are you talking about your mormor or your farmor? We need to know!

By incorporating this information into the vocabulary, you may anticipate a lot of unnecessary back and forth that would otherwise be necessary for me to determine how invested in the story I should be when you tell about what your cousin did this one time at band camp. Are you talking about your hot cousin or your funny cousin, because this is an important piece of information in this context?

In the case of grandparents, a more fine-grained nomenclature can be quite nifty as well, as the fictitious exchanges below illustrate. In English, a conversation might go like this:

“My grandma just died”

“Which one? The sweet one or the one with the funny hat?”

“The one with the hat”

“Oh. Who inherited the hat?”

In Danish this could be reduced to:

“My mormor just died”

“Oh. Who inherited the hat?”

This saves you at least a couple of seconds to spend as you please instead of inquiring into the finer details of the otherwise insufficient amount of information you have just received. I recommend using these seconds to contemplate how precious life is and how fleeting every second of it is. It would be the only respectful thing to do now that the old hag with the funny hat just passed away. But that’s totally up to you.

Stefan

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