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What’s the term for your cousin’s children?

Dear Cecil:

I have a somewhat stupid question, but it's been nagging me for a long while. What are you supposed to call your cousin's children? Because I'm Oriental, my family considers my cousin's children my nieces and nephews, but I know that's not right in the Anglo-Saxon system.

James W., Wheaton, Maryland

Cecil replies:

Dear James:

The simplest thing, assuming your cousin’s child’s name is Frank, is to call him “Frank.” Strictly speaking, the children of your first cousin are your first cousins once removed. (Your first cousin’s grandchildren, should it come to that, are your first cousins twice removed. If you have children, your children and your cousin’s children are second cousins.) “First cousin once removed” is far too cumbersome to use in casual speech, but for an adult to abbreviate the term and refer to a child as his cousin implies an unseemly generational parallelism — ideally you want to indicate you outrank the little heathens. You could try “my young cousin,” I suppose, but this sounds a bit patronizing. If you give up and refer to the kiddies as your nieces and nephews, Cecil will understand.

Cecil Adams

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