at one remove

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at one remove

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:06 am

The following is from a conversation between two residents of London while having tea together, in which the younger woman discusses the peculiarities of her fiancé with her older and wiser friend who is a psychotherapist:
<2010 “As a psychotherapist, one is not meant to enter into attempts at diagnosing at one remove.”—The Dog Who Came in from the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith, page 47>
I've not come across this idiom before and I couldn’t find it discussed in any sources, but it’s not hard to guess its meaning (and etymology) from the above quote (and those below). And, incidentally, my first impression was that this idiom was strictly British, but a scan through the many quotes I came up with proved otherwise – it appears to be only mostly British.

My pretty good guess:

AT ONE REMOVE (idiom): Once removed; not being in direct contact with the person or event in question; indirectly related.

Etymology: A figurative use and paraphrasing of the idea of once removed, as in family relationships. Removed by one degree. A first cousin ‘once removed’ would be the secondary relationship between a person and their cousin’s child. [REMOVED adjective: Separated in relationship by a given degree of descent.—American Heritage Dictionary]

The following quotes are from archives sources:
<1889 “Then, again, as long as the war lasted, only one generation was affected, and we now know how potent the influence of the whole ancestry at one remove is shown to be.”—Mind (U.K.), Vol. 14, No. 55, July, page 418>

<1936 “[her voice] fulfilled the composer’s intention extraordinarily well, and [she] sang with a conviction, passion and surety that almost persuaded one to feel Schonberg’s music as a firsthand emotional experience. Actually, however, it is not. It is a statement, at one remove, of the poet’s emotion, and by the time it reaches the hearer it is twice removed, like the attribute of an attribute.”—The Musical Times (U.K), Vol. 77, No. 1115, January, page 70>

<1963 “As was indicated in the Introduction, the device of the play written within a play is a traditional one. It also is consistent with Brecht's theory of ‘alienation.’ The story of Grusha is presented to us at one remove . . .”—Monarch Notes (New York), 1 January>

<1991 “. . . the efforts that will almost certainly be made to get around the spending limits by giving money to candidates at one remove, in the form of ‘independent’ expenditures or contributions . . .”—Washington Post (D.C.), 15 May> [[shadows of Super PACs]]

<1998 “Yet again, disaster has struck on an epic scale. Yet again, we find ourselves witnesses, at one remove, of scenes of unimaginable horror. . . we have been able to sit on our comfortable sofas thousands of miles away, watching the tragedy unfold on the small screen in the living-room corner.”—The Independent (London), 10 November>

<2005 “For the Left, this has been a contest at one remove from their immediate concerns . . .”—The Evening Standard (London), 19 October 19>

<2008 “Rather, we find ourselves beguiled by a sense of being at one remove, as if we were in Plato's cave looking at shadow play.”—Boston Globe (Massachusetts),19 December>

<2012 “But the revised mandate places the Catholic church and others at one remove from direct financial support for contraception, which from their point of view should be an improvement.”—The Register Guard (Eugene, Oregon), 8 March>

Ken G –March 20, 2012

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