Chris, who writes the blog The Lousy Linguist (“Notes on linguistics and cognition”), describes himself as “a rogue linguist who has worked in academia, government consulting, NLP, and the branding and marketing industry. I used to be a graduate student in linguistics specializing in the syntax-semantics interface and verb classes (can you say ‘Ay-Bee-Dee’ boys and girls?).” Why, yes I can, being one myself (ABD stands for “All But Dissertation”), and I’m pleased to discover this lively blog via Language Log, which links to Chris’s latest post, in which he introduces the excellent phrase the Full Liberman “to refer to Mark Liberman’s excellent manner of debunking bad journalism (see here and here for examples).”


  1. Dear Blogosphere,
    Today I would like to give thanks for Mark Liberman, for whose gifts I’m exceedingly grateful.

  2. Yes indeed, and in case anyone doesn’t know (as I didn’t until the other day), it’s pronounced LIBB-erman, not LEE-berman.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    (A spelling pronunciation of course.)

  4. (A spelling pronunciation of course.)
    I always thought it was trisyllabic laxing, myself. But it’s hard to tell, since my father’s grandfather ended up in St. Joseph MO at some point in the 1870s, and by my father’s generation, no one seems to have remembered even what country they came from (though in fairness to them, the boundaries have no doubt changed quite a few times over the years).
    Leaving out the possibility of random interventions at Ellis Island, I assume that the spelling “Liberman” reflects passage through a language using a cyrillic orthography, probably Russian. Certainly the Russian version is Либерман.
    Note that Anatoly transliterated his name as “Liberman”, but Avigdor ended up as “Lieberman”.

  5. it’s pronounced LIBB-erman
    If the one-B word is normally pronounced LEE, has he considered changing the spelling? Two-B or not two-B, that is the question.

  6. by my father’s generation, no one seems to have remembered even what country they came from
    Wow, that’s X-treme Melting Pot! I suggest you invent a minor principality or bishopric and create some historic traditions you can celebrate. “Yes, under the kindly rule of the Erzherzog von Fortis und Lenis we used to sing the Phonationsstrom in the Wortinnern Cathedral…”

  7. I have known several Spanish surnamed individuals whose Hispanic ancestor was so many generations back that their name was just a fossil. There were also a fair number of immigrants who renounced their country of origin so vigorously that even their immediate descendants didn’t know what it was. And one friend’s grandfather showed up in Utah from Texas and never told anyone anything whatsoever about his past.
    People who give the ancestry “American” to the census tend to be chauvinists, but for most people that’s actually the truest answer. I have Dutch, German, and British ancestors, but if you said I’m Minnesotan, but Iowan in descent, that would tell you 95% of the truth. By and large assumption about me made on the basis of that would be at least as correct than assumptions about me made on the basis of any more detailed ethnic information.

  8. According to MMcM, I’m probably a seventh cousin of Richard Nixon.

  9. I think I’m a very distant relation of Helmer Fogedgaard – one of the founding fathers of Danish gay rights.

  10. Wow, that’s X-treme Melting Pot!
    Well, I gather that it was a small village somewhere in the Pale of Settlement, and that later generations didn’t retain close enough ties to keep track of which of the many local nation-states it belonged to when. Also, after my grandmother died in the flu epidemic of 1918, my father was mainly raised by his mother’s sisters.
    On my mother’s side, there’s an elaborate family history (or fable, I’m not sure) back from Latvia to St. Petersburg, Moscow, the Crimea, Turkey, and Spain.

  11. My wife’s mother’s family also has an elaborate fable, tracing the family back to French Huguenots who converted to Judaism (!); this makes me smile, because the family name that is allegedly a modification of a French name is actually an extremely common Eastern European Jewish family name with a transparent Slavic etymology.

  12. Thanks for the mention!

  13. Trond Engen says:

    Turning a thread named “The Lousy Linguist” into one of Mark Liberman? Bad Hat!

  14. This sort of thing didn’t just happen in America. My mother’s maiden name was Donno, and the Donnos seem to pop up from nowhere in London early in the 19th century. Although there is an Italian surname Donno, it seems slightly more likely that my mother’s family were from Ireland, and Donno was a variant of something like O’Donohue. But after only a few generations, no one had any memory of where the family was from.
    Ellis Island-style name changing also happened to the Irish when they came east: my mother’s sister in law’s family were properly O’Halloran, but when they came to South Wales in the late 19th century to work in the coal mines, this was changed by a Welsh official who couldn’t understand their accent to “Aldran” – and since the O’Hallorans were illiterate they didn’t notice …

  15. I have known people of Russian or Russian Jewish descent sunamed Thomas, Phillips, and McNellis. The Ellis Island people couldn’t read Cyrillic and didn’t necessarily care.

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