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In English, Steve is my first cousin because he and I share a grandfather (but not a parent). Beth is my second cousin because she and I share a great grandfather (but not a parent or grandparent).

I would assume that the Spanish term "primo" (= cousin) is a shortened form of the Spanish for first cousin, so that by analogy a second cousin would be called a "segundo." But it seems that actually a second cousin is called a "primo segundo," a second first.

Is that more logical than it seems? Can anyone share anything about the etymology of this nomenclature? Was there formerly another way of expressing these relationships that did not seem oxymoronic?

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    In Spanish, we use "primo hermano" for cousins sharing the same grandparent(s). We then have "primo segundo", "primo tercero", etc.
    – Gustavson
    Jun 3, 2021 at 18:42
  • @Gustavson Do you see what I mean, that "primo segundo" seems illogical beside, say, "hermano segundo"? Or do you see it some other way?
    – Chaim
    Jun 3, 2021 at 18:48
  • Sorry if I don't see your point. "hermano" in "primo hermano" is like an adjective pointing to the close kinship, and is thus equivalent to "first cousin". When we say "primo", we generally mean "first cousin". If more remote, we use "primo segundo", "primo tercero".
    – Gustavson
    Jun 4, 2021 at 2:30
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    @Gustavson I guess you are missing how odd primo secundo, primo tercero might sound to non Spanish ears. They look like "Second first", "third first" because primo is primarily percieved to mean "first" (primero) and not "cousin" (primo).
    – Gavatx
    Jun 5, 2021 at 23:11
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    @jlliagre I understand, but "primo" as the name of a relative is not associated with "primero" to native ears, so "primo segundo" and "primo tercero" do not sound inconsistent to us.
    – Gustavson
    Jun 5, 2021 at 23:14

2 Answers 2

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Yes, this derives from a longer phrase meaning literally "first [cousin]", but this abbreviation was already used in Latin:

(cōnsōbrīnus) prīmus

and hence primo, descended from this, has always meant "cousin" in Spanish.

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While "primo" comes into Spanish from the Latin "consobrinus prīmus" which indeed meant first cousin, the term had already been shortened/abbreviated in Latin, and therefore in Spanish primo means "cousin" and only cousin.

Primo/prima does NOT mean "first" in Spanish. The Spanish for this is primero/primera. English speakers may be confused by this, because we use primo in English slang to mean "first" or "awesome," but our English "primo" comes from Italian primo which DOES mean "first."

Spanish speakers are not in the least confused by terms like "primo segundo" because "primo" has no connotation of "first" to native Spanish speakers.

The fact that "primo" and "primero" are similar in sound and come from the same root is irrelevant. English speakers don't have issues with similar sounding words or words that come from Latin but mean something very different from the Latin root, so why should Spanish speakers?

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  • Possible confusion for non-native speakers because the DLE links primo to primero dle.rae.es/primo? What actually confuses me the most is the use of primo to refer to a very close friend where there is no blood relationship. I’ve heard this a lot in Cuba. Ditto hermano
    – Traveller
    Aug 20, 2022 at 11:12
  • @Traveller Spanish might also uses tío (uncle) to name anyone but that's similar to English using sister, brother or bro for unrelated people.
    – Gavatx
    Aug 22, 2022 at 13:06

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