It’s complicated but good songwriters can make anything happen.

In 1947 Dwight Latham read a book of Mark Twain anecdotes and came up with an idea for a novelty song which he and co-composer, Moe Jaffe, wrote  titled “I’m My Own Grandpa.”  The Grand Ole Opry comedy duo Lonzo and Oscar recorded the song and it immediately shot to number one on the country charts.
                   Lonzo and Oscar – image via flickr by hotmuffin

The song was covered by pop artists such a Jo Stafford, Phil Harris and Guy Lombardo’s trio, which had a pop hit on the song in 1948.  Other country stars who put the novelty number on their albums included Willie Nelson, Ray Stevens and Grandpa Jones.  The most popular comedy team, Homer and Jethro, also had a hit recording of the amusing tune.
                    image via wikipedia

Most of you are too young to have any recollection of “I’m My Own Grandpa” and those of you who do recall it probably heard the lyrics fly by so quickly it was difficult or impossible to discern just how this phenomenon took place.  In this essay I shall attempt to slow down the process using the print medium.  Instead of using the first person “I’m” I’ll give the singer a third person name…say, “John.”  There are four characters in the story to start with.  John, his father, a widow and her daughter.  Here we go….

John marries the older widow.  This makes her daughter his stepdaughter.

Joh’s father marries the widow’s daughter.  The daughter is now both John’s stepdaughter and stepmother.  John’s father, being his stepdaughter’s husband, is now his stepson-in-law.

John’s wife, because she is the mother of his stepmother, makes her both his wife and his stepgrandmother.  Since John is married to his grandmother he then  must be his own grandfather.

We’re not finished yet.  The beat goes on.

John and his wife have a son who becomes the stepbrother of his stepdaughter.  Since John’s stepdaughter is also his stepmother then his son is also his own stepuncle since he’s the stepbrother of his stepmother.

John’s son then becomes a brother-in-law to John’s father since he’s the stepbrother of his wife.

John’s father and hiswife (John’s stepdaughter) have a son.  He becomes John’s grandson since he is the son of Johns stepdaughter.  The son would also be the stepbrother of John since he is the stepson of John’s father.

See?  Try to commit this to memory so I won’t have to do this again, O.K.

A real life case just like the song was reported in England by the London Literary Gazette in 1822 so it apparently is possible.  


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  • AlmaG on Jan 23, 2010

    Ok! this just twisted my brain a little..

    John’s father and hiswife (John’s stepdaughter) have a son. He becomes John’s grandson since he is the son of Johns stepdaughter. The son would also be the stepbrother of John since he is the stepson of John’s father.

    Great post as usual Ken :)

  • deep blue on Jan 23, 2010

    One thing is simple. If you don’t want to mess up your life, don’t fell in love with your next of kin. If you do incest then I won’t insist. A nice mind twister Ken. I’d take a tongue twister instead.

  • Uma Shankari on Jan 23, 2010

    We had a movie in Tamil (in 1975) called “Apporva Raagangal” exactly on the same lines. The film ends with the dilemma who should seek blessings from whom. It’s customary that the newly weds seek the blessings of their parents. Supposing John and his new wife wants to seek the blessings of his father, his new mother is actually his wife’s daughter, so how can you touch their feet? Or if the widow’s daughter were to seek the blessings of her mother as the newly married couple, she can’t – her husband is her new father’s son. So they decide the marriages won’t her. What a tragedy. I always thought: why should they prostrate/ seek blessings as a couple. What a silly dilemma!!

  • Guy Hogan on Jan 23, 2010

    I got lost. I do know that my sister is younger than our niece. I always thought that was odd. I had no idea how odd it could really be.

  • Lord Banks on Jan 23, 2010

    I had to read it three times but I think I understand? great article and I love the ole black and white pics. LB

  • Lady Sunshine on Jan 23, 2010

    Could you repeat that? I didn’t quite get that… :P Kidding! I was gonna say how brilliant you are but I don’t want you biting my head off. lol.

  • Nitin Mudgal on Jan 23, 2010

    Great post. Thanks

  • willie wondka on Jan 23, 2010

    as usual ken you aim to please and to baffle our intellient minds putting us to the test.thanks for the information.

  • johnnydod on Jan 23, 2010

    My head

  • chitragopi on Jan 23, 2010

    Well, it took me awhile. May be this is what they call intricate relationship?

  • Brenda Nelson on Jan 23, 2010

    I think I have heard this song before, very clever and a bit of a headache.

  • Judy Kaelin on Jan 23, 2010

    Ken, this is really cool, it makes one dizzy just thinking about it. I loved it!

  • LoveDoctor on Jan 23, 2010

    Lol@ deep blue. It twisted my brain a little after the beat goes on part.

  • Daisy Peasblossom on Jan 23, 2010

    I remember the song very well. My grandmother was a big fan of the Grand Ol’ Opry, and had the recording (Homer and Jethro I think, its been a while) on a 78 record. My mother and I made a book of interesting song lyrics, so I spent a while puzzling out the words from that scratchy old record. The whole thing is a bit of a tongue twister and mind bender, but since no real consanguinity is involved (other than the baby boy), and it is a legal matter it is entirely possible. After all, a good lawyer can come up with at least 7 legal fictions before breakfast.

  • standingproud on Jan 23, 2010

    this not only twisted my brain but my tongue as well…


    im here for the third time, lol, sucker for punishment , lol

  • Sweet girl on Jan 23, 2010

    Nice post.

    Thanks to share this one.


  • PR Mace on Jan 23, 2010

    I knew what your were talking about from the title. My husband downloaded this song and I have never laughed so much. But you’re right it is possible.

  • Jamie Myles on Jan 23, 2010

    Oh my gosh! what a tangled mess. It’s very amusing. Great post Ken.

  • Shirley Shuler on Jan 23, 2010

    Okay, Ken, you lost me. As soon as my head stop spinning, just kidding! Brilliant as usual.

  • Ruby Hawk on Jan 23, 2010

    Ken, I remember the song and I knew exactly how everything fitted in but it\’s been a long time since I thought about it. I didn\’t know it actually happened in England, though I can see how it would be possible.

  • bailieman on Jan 24, 2010

    What on earth was going through the mind of the songwriter when he sat down to write it? Wonder if it is on youtube sounds a laugh.

  • wonder on Jan 24, 2010

    There must have been a family feud or a civil war.
    My poor pea brain!

  • GWitt on Jan 24, 2010

    I never heard the song but this was an interesting read.

  • Cynthia Bartlett on Jan 24, 2010

    that’s funny not only have I heard the song, but I’ve been teasing my daughter of the possibility.

  • Val Mills on Jan 24, 2010

    I believe you!

  • Ask Cash on Jan 24, 2010

    Am I glad I do not have to draw that family tree! Talk about complicated!

  • Chris Stonecipher on Jan 25, 2010

    I remember this song well and always had fun listening to it. It is so confusing but funny too. I had to read this slow and reread. I loved every minute of it. You did a nice job presenting this read.

  • ashan1614 on Jan 26, 2010

    Leave it to you, Ken. I have a situation in my own family tree where my great grandmother was still having children when my grandmother had grown up and had a child of her own. My mother has two uncles who are younger than she is, so I can see this happening.

  • Marie Antoinette on Jan 28, 2010

    This is too funny, my head is spinning and I still got lost. Enjoyed it.

  • Netty net on Feb 4, 2010

    This sound really laughable, I end up getting confused of who who

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