Describing relatives: great-aunt or grandaunt?
Don’t ask me why (cause I can’t remember), but the other day I found myself thinking: Why would I call my grandmother’s sister my great-aunt? Shouldn’t she be my grandaunt? So as I’d been meaning to learn more about the different terms for describing relatives anyway, this finally gave me the incentive to do it.
And guess what? Turns out, this is a mistake I never knew I was making; although, as I am only one of many who do the same, perhaps it’s not such a big deal after all. Strictly speaking, the correct terms for your grandparents’ siblings would be “grandaunt” and “granduncle” – makes sense, right? So why don’t we call them that? This is one of those issues that an editor or proofreader might think twice about correcting, as it has actually been adopted by most English speakers.
Both terms – great-aunt and grandaunt – have been used for a long time. Naturally, linguists aim to standardise the language used for describing relatives, but the rules don’t exactly reflect common practice. They might tell you that your parents’ parents are your grandparents, so their aunts and uncles should be called grandaunts and granduncles. Only in the next generation upwards should “great” be added, ie, great-grandmother, great-granduncle, etc. On the other hand, Collins Online Dictionary actually describes grandaunt as another word for great-aunt, not the other way around!
So should everyone who has been referring to their grandmother’s sister as “great-aunt” switch to saying “grandaunt” in future? I would say what you call your parents’ aunts and uncles is up to you in the end – just make sure you stick to one term and don’t get them mixed up!