From the archives: Anatoly Liberman on familial language

A word in a dictionary
In this November 2020 photo, "pandemic" appears in a dictionary in Washington. Merriam-Webster on Monday announced "pandemic" as its 2020 word of the year.
Jenny Kane | AP

Is there a word or phrase that you grew up with, something you felt was unique to your family?

Maybe it was an expression your parents or grandparents used to show affection or describe frustration, only to eventually discover it had foreign origins? Or perhaps you still wonder where it came from?

Borrowed words have flooded most languages, including English.

In August 2021, Anatoly Liberman, beloved etymologist and professor of languages at the University of Minnesota, joined MPR News host Kerri Miller to explore the roots of familial words.

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In that interview, he mentioned he had just finished a dictionary of idioms. That book finally published in January 2023. This Friday on Big Books and Bold Ideas, Liberman is back with Miller to discuss it.

In the meantime, enjoy this joyous conversation about familiar words from our archives.


  • Anatoly Liberman is a linguist and professor of languages at the University of Minnesota. 

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. 

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