Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 37

December 16, 2013


Hi again, everybody!  ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues!

Instead of (or as well as) offering specific non-standard claims about specific languages or specific aspects of languages, some non-mainstream thinkers propose non-standard, often bizarre theories and methodologies involving language in general or major aspects of language(s).  These theories are rivals to the various general theories current in the mainstream of linguistics, and are often in sharp contrast with all such mainstream theories (and with each other).  I have discussed some such theories in earlier posts in this forum; for those involving historical linguistics, see now also Chapters 1-4 of my 2013 book Strange Linguistics (Lincom-Europa, Munich).  The writers who discuss non-historical issues in this vein include postmodernist philosophers such as Jacques Derrida with their focus upon written language at the expense of spoken, John Trotter, Owen Barfield, Brian Josephson & David Blair, David Wynn-Miller, and John Latham; on these authors, see now Chapter 10 of my book.

Another author of this kind is Mick Harper, who, as discussed last time, presents some astounding and inadequately supported views regarding the history of English (and of other European languages).  Harper also proclaims, by way of methodological background to these ideas, a supposedly novel research methodology for historical linguistics and indeed for the humanities generally, which he titles ‘Applied Epistemology’.  He seems to have developed this notion in response to what he perceives as sloppy and tendentious reasoning on the part of mainstream linguists, historians etc.  In his view, the errors in question are often so basic and so damaging that a new ‘paradigm’ of research is required, much more securely grounded in logic and the theory of knowledge.

Harper’s treatment of these matters is less than persuasive.  The most that can be said in his favour is that he occasionally spots a weak or inadequately explicit piece of argumentation in mainstream work.  But this is not a sufficient basis for erecting (or purporting to erect) an entire novel methodology.  And indeed Harper’s ‘Applied Epistemology’ does not appear significantly different from the methods actually used in the mainstream, where the philosophical background issues are already very familiar.  Harper rejects mainstream scholars’ conclusions – but he offers little valid criticism of the methods used to reach them.  In addition, Harper himself argues weakly and tendentiously in various places (sometimes also displaying inadequate knowledge of the facts); he often treats the evidence and reasoning against mainstream views and in support of his own as much stronger than they actually appear to be.

Recently, in this forum, I discussed the 2013 book Egyptian Hieroglyphic Decipherment Revealed: A Revisionist Model Of Egyptian Decipherment Showing Evidence That The Ancient Egyptian Language And The Ancient Hebrew Language Are Closely Related, by David Leonardi.   In Chapter 7 of this book (pp. 71-77) and the early sections of Chapter 8 (pp. 78-82), Leonardi presents his idiosyncratic ideas about morphology (the structure of complex words each including more than one morpheme = ‘meaningful component’) as applied to Egyptian and Hebrew and also – and more relevantly here – as applied to languages generally.  Following up his earlier published work (and his correspondence with me over the last decade), he introduces here an obscure and unnecessary system of novel morphological terms.  Leonardi regards himself as knowledgeable about historical linguistics, and he even runs a bulletin-board misleadingly called simply Historical Linguistics which promotes his idiosyncratic ideas.

Leonardi’s use of linguistic terminology is idiosyncratic and obscure, and more generally his wording is often strange.  These faults are well exemplified in this section of his book.  To exemplify: in his wording, at least, Leonardi repeatedly confuses synchronic (non-historical) and diachronic (historical) issues (as he does elsewhere) – despite announcing on p. 72 that his focus here is on synchronic issues only, at least as far as Egyptian and Hebrew are concerned.  Specifically, he badly hinders his own exposition of such matters by loosely using the diachronic term change to refer also to synchronic alternation as in English wife versus wive[s] (this is an instance of what a PhD supervisor would castigate as ‘undergraduate’ usage).

Further, Leonardi uses the term derivation with a broad ‘popular’ meaning involving various kinds of synchronic and diachronic relationship between the forms of related words and/or the varied and shifting meanings of one word or of a set of related words (see below for examples).  In fact, this term has a specific technical sense in linguistics, involving the (synchronic or diachronic) morphological relationships of form between distinct words – belonging to the same or to different ‘parts of speech’ – which share a stem, as exemplified by connected English verb-noun pairs such as condemn and condemnation (it contrasts here with the term inflection, referring to grammatically distinct forms of the same word, as in the verb condemn and its past tense form condemned).

Perhaps because of failure to appreciate this, Leonardi seems to confuse etymology considered generally (which is a diachronic matter and is occasionally and informally referred to by linguists as derivation) with the more specific issue of (synchronic or diachronic) matters of derivational morphology in the technical sense of derivation as just explained.  In particular, Leonardi’s decision to include under ‘derivation’ purely semantic differences and changes (those which involve only meaning, not any difference of or change in the form of a word) is very strange and confusing.  On p. 73 he even implies that in what he calls ‘morphological derivation’ there is always [a ‘change’ of] meaning associated with the ‘change’ in form (see above; does he intend the term change to be understood here synchronically, diachronically or both?).  But, although most derivational phenomena (in the narrow, technical sense of the term) do involve differences of (grammatical) meaning, there are counter-examples, involving pairs such as English orient and orientate (both verbs, same sense).  And Leonardi himself includes as derivational some ‘familial’ derivations (see below) involving no change of meaning.  His discussion of these matters appears utterly confused.

Leonardi’s use of some key specific expressions, such as in theory (for example on pp. 71 and 72) is also obscure – disastrously so, in context.

Another problem with Leonardi’s exposition involves his tendency to focus upon spelling and written forms rather than on phonology/pronunciation (which is, obviously, conceptually prior).  On p. 71, when defining his term familial (see below), his references fluctuate between spoken and written forms; but on p. 73 he goes so far as to declare that if a word undergoes only a ‘change’ (see again above; does he intend this term to be understood synchronically, diachronically or both?) in pronunciation (i.e. not in spelling) then that change does not qualify as a ‘morphological derivation’.  But the relationships between spoken and written forms in each language are historically complex; and there is no good reason to exclude differently-pronounced forms from the concept of ‘derivation’ merely because they are spelled the same (consider pairs of forms such as the English noun and verb both spelled permit and derivationally related but pronounced differently).  This confusion on Leonardi’s part is partly the result of sheer linguistic naivety and partly associated with his idiosyncratic non-standard belief that that God simultaneously created spoken and written Hebrew and that in early Hebrew, at least, letters and phonemes can therefore be equated.

Leonardi’s account also displays various outright inaccuracies.  For example, he commences Chapter 7 with the blatantly false (and confusingly supported) statement that ‘the field of Historical Linguistics lacks terminology to describe types of word derivations’ (p. 71); it appears that he is not sufficiently familiar with the linguistic literature or has failed to understand it.  And indeed – as in his earlier work – Leonardi misinterprets the statements of mainstream linguists such as P.H. Matthews (cited – without a full reference – on p. 79) about these matters (though he refuses to accept correction on this front); and in places he attacks ‘mainstream’ straw men.

Another set of mistakes involves Leonardi’s decision to treat as etymologically related various pairs or sets of words which either are known to be unrelated or have uncertain etymologies.  This is often connected with his belief that many words in many languages have unacknowledged Hebrew origins.  Examples include English plot and plate, cited together on p. 71, and his tracing (p. 74) of English court to English core and ultimately to Hebrew sor (‘court’).  There are also sheer errors of fact regarding word-meanings (for example that of the Latin word posterior; see p. 72).

Apparently thinking here of ‘derivation’ in his loose sense, Leonardi introduces some general issues which are only marginally relevant to the narrower technical notion of ‘derivation’: a) the transfer of words and of some of their phonemes from one language (or ‘dialect’; he confusingly refers in this context to ‘dialect group[s]’) to another, described here as filtered derivation (p. 73), b) the phenomenon of words taking on new meanings through originally metaphorical use (Leonardi calls this phenomenon analog derivation and is careful to distinguish this notion from that of analogy, on which see c) below) (p. 74); c) the reanalysis of the morphology of transferred words by way of analogy (p. 75), d) the obscuring of background morphological facts over time within one language (p. 75), and e) the development of words based on onomatopoeia or sound-symbolism (p. 75; also Chapter 8).  His comments on all these matters are largely valid in themselves, although some of the last body of material (e) relates to his own non-mainstream views about the origins of Hebrew phonemes and letters.

Leonardi’s own novel morphological terms include:

Familial (pp. 71ff)

In these cases, one word is said to be ‘derived’ from another (within one language or cross-linguistically; see p. 76) by way of an unsystematic difference of form and an associated unpredictable difference of meaning.  It is suggested (p. 77) that some cases of this kind can involve compounded sequences of two or more stems with distinct, linked meanings; but Leonardi’s main examples involve single stems with simple senses.  Leonardi states that ‘in theory’ there are no examples of familial derivation in Hebrew or Egyptian, because their morphologies are highly systematic.  But his examples from other languages (such as English plot and plate as discussed above) are typically wrong or at any rate unsupported; and in any event this would involve derivation only in Leonardi’s looser sense of the term.  In addition, Leonardi confusingly states (p. 73) that some familial derivations involve no change of meaning.  Overall, it is not at all clear that a new term is needed here, still less that familial would be the best term (Leonardi justifies it as referring to ‘families’ of words, an unhelpfully loose concept, subject – like his version of the notion ‘paradigm’ – to multiple interpretations).

Associative (pp. 72ff)

In these cases, the same form is said to have taken on (slightly) different meanings in different contexts (within one language or cross-linguistically).  Leonardi’s specific example (involving Latin and English uses of posterior) is wrong (as noted above), but the point is made.  Now in the technical sense of ‘derivation’ it is perfectly possible for some pairs of derivationally-linked words to have the very same forms, in writing (see above on permit and permit), pronunciation or both (consider noun-verb pairs such as English book and book = ‘make a reservation [in a book]’).  But the (main) differences of meaning between the members of such pairs are, obviously, grammatical.  In contrast, Leonardi (obviously thinking only of ‘derivation’ in his loose sense) is speaking here of (diachronic) shifts of meaning at word-level (‘lexical’ as opposed to grammatical meaning).

Lexiform (pp. 72ff)

Cases of this kind are said to be especially numerous in Hebrew and Egyptian as reinterpreted by Leonardi.  In these cases, two or more word-stems (lexical morphemes) combine to form what traditional grammarians and many modern linguists have called compound words, as in blackbird or antifascist (this is derivation in the technical sense).  Leonardi acknowledges this usage (see below) but also states that linguists have used the term complex word in this context.  This latter is false; he has misunderstood the literature.  Complex words are in fact those which include at least one lexical morpheme and at least one grammatical morpheme, as in derivation in the technical sense or inflection.  Leonardi rejects the ‘straw-man’ position he has erected on the grounds that it fails to allow for the later development of the words in question (originally sequences of two or more lexical stems with distinct, linked meanings) into simple words seen as having single meanings – a phenomenon used on p. 75 to exemplify his point identified above as point d) (the specific example used is English magpie).  But this objection appears irrelevant in any case: the initial (synchronic) compound nature of such words is one thing, and the subsequent (diachronic) loss of their internal morpheme boundaries (etc.) – and their later ensuing (synchronic) single-morpheme status – is another.  Leonardi is again, it seems, confusing synchronic and diachronic issues (and berating linguists for not thinking in this confused way!).   He goes on to suggest (again wrongly, as it seems) that the term compound is more commonly used (by linguists?) for cases which are ‘semantically disjoint’, giving two obscure English compound words as examples of this pattern but failing to explain his apparently idiosyncratic use of the term disjoint.  He then suggests (correctly) that some linguists use the term compound more widely to include all ‘lexiform’ cases and (obscurely) that they thus fail to distinguish ‘semantically singular’ and semantically disjoint words (the reader still does not know what either of these terms means).  And he concludes this section by redefining his term lexiform in quite other terms, as involving ‘changes’ (synchronic or diachronic?) of phonemes resulting in new meanings and as contrasting in this respect with ‘familial’ derivations which (here only) are said to involve no meaning change (see above).  After reading this section one still has no real idea as to what the novel term lexiform is supposed to mean!

Inflectional (pp. 73ff)

This term is itself mainstream (see above), but it does not actually involve derivation in the technical sense.  Leonardi’s own discussion of the relevant ideas again manifests large amounts of confusion and error.  First: he correctly states that inflections (‘inflectional derivations’) are grammatical; but so are derivations in the technical sense.  Second: some of Leonardi’s examples here actually involve derivation, not inflection (for example, the English noun cooker vs the verb cook), or else cases which are ‘borderline’ and/or ambiguous in this respect (such as cooking).  Third: Leonardi, correctly indicating that inflectional differences involve different forms of the same lexeme (‘dictionary word’), defines this latter concept in terms of the ‘bases’ (‘stems’?) of the (complex) words in question being ‘semantically exactly the same’ (having the same meaning).  This is correct in itself but not restrictive enough: i) the very same is true of derivational differences, and ii) the stems must also be the same in form, or at least recognisably closely related, to count as the same lexeme (the stems abattoir and slaughterhouse have the same meaning but they do not represent the same lexeme).  Fourth: Leonardi sets up another straw man by claiming that some linguists treat the English verb-forms left and went as inflectionally related; in fact, all linguists would agree with him in identifying went as inflectionally linked with go (as a highly ‘irregular’ past tense form).  (The morphological and semantic history of go and went is actually very interesting, but I cannot deal with it here.)  And the obscure final sentence of this section wrongly invokes (as it seems) ‘the point of view of the speaker’ and the sociolinguistic process of standardisation.

Leonardi completes this chapter with a summary (pp. 76-77) which includes further references to his own idiosyncratic views and serves mainly to add to the overall confusion.

I hope it will be clear even to non-specialists that the material discussed here, and Leonardi’s material in particular, exemplifies ‘how not to do linguistics’.

More next time (when pos)!


For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany.  Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.


Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 36

December 2, 2013


Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues! The case of M.J. (Mick) Harper arose in the context of my last post. Some readers are aware of him, and I am often asked about him when I identify myself as a skeptical linguist; so, while the iron is hot, here goes!

Harper presents the astounding view that Modern English, while related to Old English, is not descended from it, and that Middle English therefore did not exist at all except as a highly artificial literary variety (although this would not be his own preferred wording at this point). He also suggests (more obviously speculating) that Modern English has existed since ancient times, when it was current across Western Europe, and is indeed the ancestor of most modern Western European languages, including the Romance languages; that Latin was therefore not the ancestor of these languages and was in fact invented; and that the vast majority of the etymologies given for English words are therefore mistaken.

Harper thus challenges all scholarly opinion on the subject, purporting to offer an alternative, more truly scholarly position. But he does not fulfil the standard obligations of scholarship: there is no scholarly apparatus of any kind. Perhaps most strikingly, there are virtually no references to the scholarly literature, and opposing views and scholars are mentioned only to be dismissed with often facetious contempt as biased and hidebound. And on the evidence available Harper’s knowledge of linguistics is not adequate for the task he undertakes here; he is out of his depth in both factual and theoretical linguistic matters. For example, he repeatedly seizes on individual ‘anomalies’ as weapons with which to belabour scholarship. Some of these are spurious; others are genuine but are already familiar to linguists and are the subject of intense study. One good example is the apparently rapid series of changes which distinguish Middle English from Old English. The genuinely rapid lexical changes can be attributed to the flood of French loanwords which entered English after the Norman Conquest of 1066; but a major reason for the grammatical differences lies in the fact that literary Middle English was based on a Midland dialect, while literary Old English was almost entirely based on a Southern dialect. The two dialects were already divergent before the Norman Conquest, and many changes that affected early Midland dialects did not take place in Southern dialects; there is no evidence that the changes in the Midland dialects were markedly more rapid than any other linguistic changes. (This particular case also illustrates the general point that, like many non-linguists who venture into the discipline, Harper grasps issues involving vocabulary much more readily than structural issues involving phonology and grammar.) The case for the mainstream account of the history of English is much stronger than Harper thinks, and the alleged anomalies much less damaging. And, even if Harper were correct in his arguments against the standard view, he does not give readers sufficient reason to accept his alternative story.

Harper also makes broad overgeneralizations about what scenarios and changes are or are not plausible. For instance, he believes that two diachronically related languages could equally well be related in either order. For most such cases this is simply false: it is easy to show, both by internal evidence and by cross-linguistic evidence on the nature of linguistic change, that (for instance) the verb system of Italian is descended from that of everyday spoken (‘Vulgar’) Latin, rather than vice versa. (The novel Italian tense morphemes are clearly derived from Vulgar Latin auxiliary verbs; the Latin morphemes cannot be explained on the basis of Italian.)

Romance is also the locus of one of Harper’s most telling errors of fact. He argues (correctly) that it would be strange if a whole ‘raft’ of identical grammatical changes were to occur independently in languages which are descended from a common ancestor but which are not currently in contact. Under such circumstances, some identical and numerous similar changes would actually be expected, thanks to shared structural pressures among the related languages; but one would not expect globally identical changes. Harper uses this point to attack the standard model of Romance. But in fact most of the features that distinguish early Romance from Classical Latin were already found in Vulgar Latin, among them the reduction of the case system and the collapse of the neuter gender; there is no mystery here.

See Harper’s The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language, 2nd edn, London, 2007, etc.). For more comments on Harper’s work, see Mark Newbrook and Sarah Thomason, Review of Harper, M.J., The History Of England Revealed (2002), The Skeptical Intelligencer, 7 (2005), pp. 34-6; see also Mark Newbrook and Sarah Thomason, Comments on Harper’s reply to Review of Harper, M.J. (2002), The Skeptical
Intelligencer, 8 (2005/2006), pp. 38-9.

More next time (when pos)!


For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

The Big Pharma Conspiracy Theory

November 25, 2013

When I’m not saving the world, I’m writing and talking about conspiracy theories. Last week, a reviewed article I wrote about the Big Pharma conspiracy theory for the journal Medical Writing was published. It’s called “The Big Pharma Conspiracy Theory,” which suddenly seems somehow uninventive as titles go, even if it is completely accurate.

Sadly, my spot as a caller with the American History Guys on Backstory was cut, so if you want to hear me not talking to them you can listen to the episode “Grassy Knolls,” which is out now.


Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 35

November 25, 2013


Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues!

John Chapple believes that he can demonstrate fallacies in historical chronology; for example, he holds that many of the ‘medieval’ roads of England must have been built long before the Roman roads, in pre-historic times. He goes on from ideas of this kind to develop seriously revisionist perspectives on history and historical linguistics. Some of his ideas are reminiscent of those of Mick Harper (The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language, 2nd edn, London, 2007, etc.). For instance, he too (along with Fomenko also; see Hall of Shame 32) accepts as probably reliable the largely fanciful ‘history’ of Britain written by the 12th-Century clergyman-scholar Geoffrey of Monmouth (the source for the stories of Gog & Magog, Old King Cole, King Lear, etc), according to which Britain was settled by the Trojan prince Brutus. Chapple accepts Geoffrey’s undemonstrated claim that his work is based on a supposedly older (7th-Century) Welsh text (which, even if it were genuinely older, might itself be largely fantasy), and suggests that the ‘truth’ of Geoffrey’s narrative has been suppressed by orthodox scholars.

As far as the history of the English language is concerned, Chapple argues that it arose much further east than the Germanic-speaking area of Europe, in Anatolia (modern Asiatic Turkey). Here – misled by naïvely ‘gung-ho’ newspaper headlines written by amateurs – he is grotesquely misunderstanding recent phases of the ongoing debate as to the precise location and date of Proto-Indo-European, the unattested & reconstructed ancestor of the Indo-European language ‘family’ and thus the ULTIMATE ANCESTOR of English!

Chapple also argues (again with Harper) that closer ancestors of English were used in Britain in pre-Roman times, alongside Celtic, and were NOT introduced in late-Roman & post-Roman times as is normally held. A date as early as 4500 BCE for the arrival of pre-English-speakers is proposed. Some of the individual points made in this context by Chapple and his correspondents are not without interest; but overall the level of linguistic sophistication is inadequate, conflicting evidence is soft-pedalled, and the general claim is in no way demonstrated.

Chapple also links the Druids (as described by Geoffrey) with the Phoenicians (in the context of the development of the Greek Alphabet) and makes various other claims which are speculative or worse.

For Chapple’s material, one could start at

More next time! I am very busy at present and may be posting at longer intervals (fortnightly or even monthly) rather than weekly.


For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 34

November 18, 2013

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues!


Some private individuals offer attempts at remedying (alleged) problems with usage; these amateur proposals may, of course, be prescriptivist or otherwise folk-linguistic. In 2001, for instance, Lyn Magree, an Australian parent concerned about the struggles of children with English (and mathematics), self-published a book designed to give intelligible and accurate advice at the relevant level; a second edition, revised (if not adequately) in response to initial criticisms, quickly followed (1). The book contains many errors and misleading or confusing statements about English, and Magree also accepts folk-linguistic myths about the relationship between speech and written language. She believes that explicit knowledge of grammar (and even the learning of lists of unexemplified terms for parts of speech) is needed by young native speakers; and she makes heavily negative prescriptive comments about features of children’s non-standard varieties which she wishes (not necessarily unreasonably) to discourage in the school context. Furthermore, some of her own usage is non-standard.

Lynne Truss’ books (2) argue for a quite heavily prescriptivist approach to punctuation (commas, brackets, apostrophes, etc.). Truss’s first book met with intense criticism on various fronts. Ironically and embarrassingly, much of her own punctuation is widely judged non-standard, especially (though not only) by non-British commentators unused to British norms. Louis Menand, for example, identifies many punctuation ‘errors’ in the book, describing these (in an American context) as instances of ‘British laxness’ (3). In contrast, the strongly anti-prescriptivist linguist David Crystal (4) and the English lecturer Nicholas Waters (5) attack Truss’ linguistic purism and offer approaches more tolerant of variation and of a degree of informality in written usage.

Re the title of item (5): note that root means ‘copulate’ in Australian English!


1 Lyn Magree, The Pocket Basics for English and Maths, 2nd edn (Sydney and Melbourne,
2 Lynne Truss, Eats Shoots & Leaves, 3rd edn (London, 2009); The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes! (London, 2006).
3 Louis Menand, ‘Bad Comma: Lynne Truss’s strange grammar’, The New Yorker, 28 June
2004, available online at
http://www. newyorker. com/archive/2004/06/28/040628crbo_books1#ixzz1EEISWnIY
4 David Crystal, The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot and Left (Oxford,
5 Nicholas Waters, Eats, Roots and Leaves: An Open-minded Guide to English (London, 2005).

More next time!


For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

On Veterans’ Day, a Memorial to My Grandfather

November 11, 2013

The day I moved into my first apartment, way back in 1998 or so, I wrote the following account of a battle my grandfather participated in. I did not know John Blaskiewicz, as he died the year before I was born. I knew he was a replacement in the 103d Infantry Division who had been sent to Europe after the ASTP program had been abruptly shut down. (I hear he and others were annoyed.) This division, the “Cactus Division” fought in south France and Germany and ended the war outside of Innsbruck Austria. But that’s all I knew. I had always been curious about his wartime experiences and, with my father, researched his unit, got in touch with veterans from his unit, and, over time, built up a picture of the only battle he ever spoke about publicly. Indeed, I found that it was the only battle that every single veteran talked about unprompted.

[Update, 6/29/2015:Most of the direct quotations in this narrative come from Richard M. Stannard’s oral history of 2nd Battalion of the 410th, Infantry: An Oral History of a WWII American Infantry Battalion, which is required reading for anyone interested in the history of the 103d ID.]

The Battle at Schillersdorf

The terrain the 410th occupied following the withdrawal as “a lot like [a] golf course, rolling and open with patches of woods, and deep snow.” In the days preceding the attack at Schillersdorf, the Germans reconnoitered and patrolled boldly. Sgt. Ray Millek, who led a machinegun squad for Company E [Easy], remembered holding the line: “Before things heated up, we were in two houses straddling a road to block infiltrators. Along comes this real pretty girl, and she asked to go through our roadblock to the next town. Oh, God, she was making these eyes at me, and she spoke English. I told her the Germans were holding the town she wanted to go to, but she said, ‘That’s my home. I want to go back.’ I let her through. I’ve often thought about that. When she got to the next village, she probably told the Germans there were only three or four of us on a roadblock.” Indeed, the precision of the coming German strike would demonstrate how well-informed the enemy had been.

At the time, Easy Company endured poor leadership, likely the most dangerous threat to any combat unit. In the Army, a unit’s movement, material and information was determined by the immutable chain of command. Officers at every level could be held directly responsible for his subordinates’ actions because their actions, in theory, originated at their superiors’ command. A well-trained, physically fit and well-supplied company of war-hardened veterans, can be squandered in a hopeless battle, wasted in pursuit of insignificant objectives, or can empower an inferior enemy by injudicious inaction. Soldiers relied on their officers to lead them into battle and to monitor their progress; as such commanders’ decisions and actions significantly impacted troop morale and effectiveness. The effects of a corrupted chain of command rippled throughout the ranks; Hitler, for instance, sacrificed often-superior weaponry, defensive advantages and a generation of experienced soldiers at key points to the elimination of a reliable chain of command by which he sought to consolidate power. Millek painted an unfavorable picture of his Company’s captain: “The captain we had at the time was a son of a bitch. Scared to death. He’d whimper and lay in bed and ask me to do this, do that, do everything for him. ‘Go to Battalion. See what’s what,’ things that he as a captain should have been doing, and he’d be laying in bed drunker than hell. It was easy to get booze up there. I think he had a couple of runners who scrounged for him. A pack of cigarettes would get you anything that you wanted. When the krauts hit us, he was worthless.”

“[He was] a strange man to be in the infantry,” First Lieutenant Martin E. Shelley recalled. “He’d only been an administrator. He told me to find him an orderly who could speak German because his job was going to be to keep him in schnapps. He didn’t interfere, just stayed in his little room at the CP. When we got our whisky allowance, you wouldn’t see him until the whisky was gone.”

Following Easy’s withdrawal to Offwiller, the Company’s CO made a tactical error that would only be corrected at the cost the lives of many GI lives. Second Lieutenant Hugh Chance commanded Easy Company’s Third Platoon. His platoon represented the leftmost extreme of the 103rd’s line. He remembered his CO’s orders: “It was snowing like everything. The CO told the Second and Third Platoons to set up outposts a mile and a half or two miles ahead of the MLR [Main Line of Resistance]…. The 36th Engineers [of the 40th ID] were supposed to be on the line to our left, but I walked all along their sector and couldn’t find anybody. When I told company headquarters that our left flank was wide open, we were ordered to stay anyway.” At no point during the several days that Chance’s platoon kept the outpost did Easy Company’s CO take steps to guard the 2nd battalion’s flank.

Captain Alfred J. Torrance commanded G Company from Rothbach. In contrast to his counterpart in Easy Company, Torrance was an effective commander who was well-liked by his men. “He was a hell of a good man, a man everybody felt they could trust,” commented Clyde Rucker. “He was concerned about the guys’ welfare. I don’t know if all the officers were.” John Woodside, a machine gunner in the Fourth Platoon, described Torrance as, “a good leader, but not a glory hound. He always told us he didn’t want a bunch of heroes; he wanted a bunch of live soldiers. In training, we thought that he was too hard on us, but we found out he was right when we got overseas.” Paradoxically, Torrance’s effectiveness was reflected in the fact that he touted the highest casualty rate in the Regiment at 128 percent (as opposed to Easy Company, who had the lowest at 50 percent). Indeed, when George Company launched its final assault on Germany, it was at only 75% full strength. The effectiveness of his command drew him more hazardous assignments, which in turned opened holes in the ranks that would be filled with green replacements. Robert Loyd, one of Torrance’s riflemen rationalized the situation: “They asked us to do a lot of things they wanted done right, and they figured Al Torrance was the guy to do it. A price had to be paid.”

At 2100 on Jan 22, the Germans exploited the gap between the left flank of the 410th and the right flank of the 45th ID and launched near-simultaneous attacks against Company E’s CP at Offwiller and Company G’s Command Post at Rothbach. The Germans attacked Easy’s CP from behind. Ray Millek, who was a sergeant in charge of a machinegun squad in Easy’s Second Platoon: “…[W]e heard firing to our rear. I called…[First Sargent Orland Woodbeck of Easy’s first platoon] at the CP in Offwiller. ‘There’s a few civilians coming into town,’ he says. ‘We’ll handle them.’ What he didn’t know was that krauts on skis in civilian clothes had gotten into Offwiller by coming over the mountain from behind.” Chance made note of the route the Germans followed that allowed them to attack the Second Battalion from behind: “They’d come over the mountain through that unprotected left flank.”

The situation at Easy’s CP quickly deteriorated and it became evident that the camp would have to be abandoned. First Sergeant Woodbeck called up to Lt. Chance’s platoon. “The town’s full of them,” he told chance. “Battalion said to tell you fellas to get out of there the best way you can.’” There was either not enough time for Woodbeck to contact Sgt. Millek’s Outpost before the retreat, or the communication lines had been cut. The staff soon realized that there was no prospect of an organized retreat. First Lt. Shelley reported: “[T]here was gunfire all around the CP. We decided it was time to get out of there and back to the MLR…. Our captain was in a drunken stupor, but I got him awake and told him the Germans were right across the street. ‘Call my jeep driver,’ he said, and he took off.” With that, Easy’s CO abandoned his company to fend for itself.

Capt. Torrance, at George Company’s CP in Rothbach, was notified by the Battalion of the Easy’s Company’s situation at Offwiller. “I considered sending some men to counterattack,” he remembered, “but I wasn’t allowed to. Our job was to hold. We followed the prearranged plan. My rifle platoons pulled out of Rothbach and went into holes above the town.” He called a meeting and was informing his staff of the situation when the Germans hit his CP. According to Woodside, the machine gunner, Torrance “called his sergeants and platoon leaders back to a meeting to give ‘em a little information about what was going on. While he was talking about what was going to happen, it started happening. Loren Becker [Woodside’s sergeant] never could get back to us. Those storm troopers come off that mountain like a bat out of hallelujah.”

Captain Torrance’s reconnaissance sergeant, Robert Schroeder, was at George Company’s CP during the opening volley of the German attack at Rothbach. “We didn’t expect anybody, ‘cause we hadn’t heard any firing from Easy. First thing I knew was when a guard outside out CP shouted a challenge. The guy answered in American, so I didn’t get suspicious, but our guard said, ‘You kraut son of a bitch,’ and opened fire. Then all hell broke loose.”

Torrance ordered an evacuation of the CP, ordering Sgt. Schroeder to hold until no more equipment could be evacuated. Schroeder lingered until the house across the street was stormed by enemy troopers, and then followed Torrance up the hill. Woodside’s machine gun crew, however, was stranded in a house at the edge of town. Both Torrance and Schroeder wondered how the machine gunners were left behind. They likely never heard about the retreat, as their sergeant had been unable to reach them during the fight.

Stranded in Rothbach, Woodside and his crewmates caught hell. “I was firing out the window when a bazooka round hit right below me,” he remembered. “The next one come over the window sill and exploded. It knocked out three of my men, blew my leg almost off, and set me afire. I got the brunt of it. The other three men was all right when they woke up. One of ‘em was Bert Irwen. I don’t remember the others.”

Not knowing that he’d been on fire, the other soldiers wrapped Woodside in blankets. He remained conscious, but in was shock. The burns were excruciating: “I thought my guts was blown out. I finally asked someone to see what kind of shape my guts was in. [Another soldier] took the blanket off; I was burning down there. All the clothes in my middle was burned off.”

Easy’s CP, minus one CO, attempted to execute the preplanned retreat. The evacuation plan called for them to follow a German anti-tank ditch to Rothbach, where they would pass through G Company. They were not aware that the Germans had taken the town. Lt. Shelley remembered the retreat: “It was dark…, 10 degrees below zero and lots of snow. Pfc. Joseph Kennedy was in the lead. I was right behind him when he saw these figures and called out the password. The answer brrrrrrrrp from a German burp gun. He just did a flip-flop, hit right in the forehead. I’m sure he never knew what happened.”

Leaderless, the men of Easy’s CP knew they were trapped and outgunned. First Lt. Shelly and the others abandoned the escape plan and retreated—away from American lines. One soldier in the group, desperate to escape, stripped down to the skin and put his light gray thermals over his uniform. He sneaked off, hoping that he had adequately camouflaged himself. The men who stayed back shortly heard machinegun fire and assumed the worst.

“We…laid there in our little ditch real quiet,” Lt. Shelley recalled. “I told the men not open fire till I gave the command. We didn’t have to wait long, probably about midnight, when here come the Germans wearing white snow capes. We picked up one, then another one. Oh, oh, there’s a whole line coming, very slowly. When they were about 50 or 60 feet away, we opened fire and shot every round we had. The next thing that we knew, they came yelling like Comanche Indians and jumped into the ditch.”

“Of course, the Germans didn’t know that we were disarmed when they jumped in that ditch,” First Sgt. Orland Woodbeck remembered. “It’s a wonder nobody was hurt. Would the Germans have survived if the circumstances had been reversed? We-l-l-l-l, I don’t know. They probably wouldn’t have.”

The Germans quickly took the stranded Americans prisoner. First Lt. Shelley surrendered his last weapon: “All I had left was a hand grenade. I pulled the pin and thought about dropping it and being one of those kamikazes, but I also thought, “What is this gonna do in the winning of the war?” I’m standing there with this armed grenade in my hand when this big tall German guy comes up behind me and says, ‘Raus mit!’ I took my watch off, tightened the band around the grenade and let it drop in the snow. The time comes when you have to realize the jig is up….

“I’ve often wondered what happened to the grenade. I hope some poor cuss didn’t find it after the snow melted and say “Wow, there’s a wristwatch.”

“They made us clasp our hands behind out heads,” Lt. Woodbeck recalled. “The Germans, when they surrendered, had a tradition of throwing their helmets away and putting on field caps. We didn’t do anything like that. How to surrender was not part of our training.”

Sgt. Millek held his position at the fringes of the American line, unaware that the CP to his rear had been captured. “The firing back there kept on for maybe an hour,” he reported. “When I called Woodbeck again, the line was dead. Woodbeck and the captain and the whole company headquarters had been captured. I told my guys, ‘There’s something wrong back there. We’re getting out of here, but don’t go back by the road.’ They pulled back, carefully skirting the town.

Lt. Chance’s group had also bypassed Offwiller when they encountered Millek’s group. “[T]here on the other side of town was a whole group waiting, Rhye’s and Millek’s men and my platoon,” Chance recalled, “Sixty or seventy men in that bright moonlight on the snow, standing there in the open. There was no panic, but it panicked me to find everybody waiting for me. Well, I didn’t do anything but run ahead of them and beg them to get some distance between us and the town.”

Lieutenant Chance took command of the group and led the stealthy retreat. “Lieutenant Chance took us over fences, through back alleys, and what have you to get us back to the main line,” mortar sergeant Sam Natta remembered. Even though the entire CP had been captured, thanks to Lt. Chance’s decisiveness not a single man on the Outpost line was killed. “All our people made it back safely to the MLR. Chance’s boys and John Rhye’s and mine. How Chance made the decision to take that route I don’t know, but he saved us. He must have done it on instinct.”

At Offwiller, deficient command certainly did not hinder the German cause. 2nd Lt. John Crow, CO of H Company, recalled: “The most serious charge of dereliction, against the commander of E Company, was never proven. The company commander was accused by his men of abandoning them on 22 January 1945.” The discipline and efficiency displayed by the SS as they seized Easy Company’s Offwiller Outpost impressed Crow: “Attacking E Company’s outpost in pitch-darkness, they leaped into the defenders’ ditch and took them all prisoner without shooting a man.” Twenty-nine men had been captured, which accounted for all POWs and MIAs that Easy suffered in the European Theater of Operations [ETO].


On the hill above Rothbach, GIs were distributed white camouflage. According to Sgt. Duus, a rifleman in G’s Second Platoon, “Sergeant Huskey [walked] along the parapet in front of our holes telling everyone what the situations was, to stay awake, and keep our eyes and ears open.” The next morning, from his position above Rothbach, Lt. Torrance noticed a head that appeared above a windowsill in a house below. He squeezed off a shot with his rifle, the head disappeared, and American swearing was heard below—the missing machine gunners. A group made its way down to the edge of town to evacuate the group. Luckily, Torrance’s bullet had grazed Elmer Brawe’s head, knocking him down and stunning him. Brawe, Woodside, Irwin and the other soldier were evacuated. Woodside needed special help being evacuated as Schroeder remembered: “There wasn’t much bleeding but he was in terrible pain. To get him out of there, we had to carry him up an icy 45-degree slope that was covered with snow. Once or twice we lost him off the litter.”

Back on the hill, Torrance got a call from his colonel: “Some of your mortarmen were so confused in this night fight they lost their lines,” he said. Mortarmen in the Fourth Platoon had fled to the First Battalion reserve unobserved.

“‘Well, get their asses back up here,’ ” Torrance responded, “‘I’ll get them back in position.’ And I did.”


In the wake of the night’s casualties, forward units at the left of the Regimental line were retracted to the MLR, and the Regimental CO, sensing a possible attack, moved the 1st Bn Outpost to Ingwiller at 2215, Jan 22.

On the 23rd, forward units of the Second Battalion absorbed machinegun fire from enemy units at Offwiller. That afternoon German artillery fired at F [Fox] Company while Easy was mortared. A prisoner revealed that 2 battalions of SS troopers occupied Rothbach. They were members of Hitler’s elite 6th SS “Gebirgs” (Mountain) Division “Nord”. This well-equipped, veteran Division had been formed in Finland in 1942, had since campaigned in both Finland and Norway and had only been transferred to the western front since Christmas. The Americans strengthened their defenses.

The morning of Jan 24 brought heavy shelling in Co. G’s sector and the withdrawal of the 3rd Bn Outpost, which was driven back through Bischholtz and through Muhlhausen. The 3rd Bn reserve, Co. L, was moved into position at Zutzendorf at 0918 as the Battalion’s forward units retreated to the MLR. That afternoon, the 410th’s anti-tank company knocked out two tanks that had been spotted by units above Rothbach, and at 1710, 2nd Battalion again was shelled.


At 0443 on January 25th the Germans laid down an artillery barrage against Co. K on the 3rd Battalion’s left flank. When the artillery lifted, SS infantry, supported by two tanks, attacked and overran Company K. Companies F and G who were on the line were not attacked, though F’s right flank was exposed as K fell back. Spilman Gibbs, Fox Company CO, recalled, “[T]he company commander panicked and pulled out, leaving my flank wide open. He was asleep in a house; wasn’t even on the line.” Within twelve minutes of the initial barrage the Germans punctured the Cactus Division’s Main Line of Resistance. Co. K’s support was committed at 0455, as was 3rd Battalions reserve.

The Germans advanced rapidly. During the first wave of the attack, three machine gun flank guards, Pfc M. L. Jacobs, Cpl. J. W. Pike and Pvt. Richard C. Hawn, oblivious to the fact that they were facing an SS battalion, decided to hit their attackers from behind. They set out from behind the house that they defended against the first wave and encountered a Nazi. Jacobs fired, the German dropped and the three ducked into an adjacent courtyard. Jacobs tried to enter one of the buildings on the plaza, but his tugs at the door were met by those of a soldier on the other side. Not knowing whether the occupant was friend or foe, Jacobs dove under a wagon in the courtyard while Pike and Hawn took shelter in an outhouse. From under the wagon, Jacobs watched a group of Germans emerge from the building. A friendly dog threatened to reveal Jacobs’ hiding spot as the Germans searched the premises. The three carefully made their way to a nearby barn. After they had made their way to the hayloft, German soldiers entered the barn and established the CP of an SS Battalion at the site. Under such perilous conditions, the GIs sweated out the next two days.

Within ten minutes of the Nazi breakthrough, the enemy was poised to strike at the Second Battalion’s CP in Schillersdorf. Co. K’s reserves and Co. L, Third Battalion’s reserve, were committed at 0455 to stanch the breakthrough. Men from E’s withdrawn Outpost manned foxholes in the field outside of Schillersdorf, although some of the men had been rotated into town for the night. Frank Kania was a jeep driver for H Company who was attached to Easy and running supplies to Schillersdorf for several days. His group was billeting in one of the houses. “There were three jeeps in the courtyard,” he recalled. “That morning, the woman of the house came running and yelled, ‘Boche come, boche come.’ That was our only warning. We grabbed our belongings, and the sergeant says, ‘We’ll all start the jeeps at once. Then follow me.’ He smashed through the barnyard door with the rest of us behind him. Here came the krauts up the street from the right. Luckily, he turned left.”

Sgt. Millek, the machine gunner from Easy’s Outpost, had been rotated into town the night the attack came: “There was about six of us in a house, all asleep, when we heard firing outside. We ran outside. There was this one fellow, I won’t mention his name [likely Cecil Shaw], I put him up in a barn where he could see real good and told him, ‘You see anything out there shoot it.’”

Sgt. Sam Natta, who commanded one of Easy’s mortar platoons, remembered: “We were in reserve when word came down that the Germans had taken the town. The whole mortar section [two squads] was thrown in to reinforce the riflemen. We didn’t know what to expect.” Natta saw the supply sergeant’s jeep burst out of the barn. It had been mounted with a .50 caliber machine gun. “I jumped on,” he remembered, “and tried to fire it, but it froze after one shot, so I joined up with a machine gun sergeant who had a brand-new light machine gun. Whoever was supposed to have cleaned off the Cosmoline (a thick protective grease) hadn’t, and that gun jammed too.” A concussion grenade knocked the machine gunner and Sgt. Natta down and they took cover between two buildings.

Sgt. Millek described the scene at the CP outside his billet: “The battalion medics were set up right across the street, and this doctor captain comes running over and grabs me and says, ‘Don’t let them get me. I’m Jewish,’ and I said, “Don’t worry. None of us is gonna get captured.’ ” Lt. Chance, who had led the evacuation of Easy’s outposts on the 22nd, was also in Schillersdorf when it was raided. “I was in the supply room. Some of the men and I ran into the street and blocked [the SS] for awhile, but there were too many. Capt. Bruno Lambert, the battalion surgeon, hollered over at us, ‘Help me get these vehicles and the wounded out of town. You know what they’ll do to me if they can.’ He was a German Jew.”

First Lt. Leonard B. Dogget, who lead Easy’s First Platoon, assembled a group of soldiers from his company to counterattack and delay the Germans long enough to evacuate the Battalion medics and Chaplain Capt. William C. Kleffman. Staff Sargent Melvin Seiler, who led a rifle squad in Dogget’s platoon, remembered: “…Doggett came around and said, ‘They broke through the line up front, and they’re headed this way.’ Next thing I knew, SS troops wearing white camouflage parkas and all schnapped up were shooting at anything in their sites.”

Once the SS attacked, Sgt. Seiler recalled: “My squad made for the woods. ‘Spread out,’ I told my people, ‘and hold them off as long as you can. If they keep coming, fall back a little.’ Pretty soon, we were back in town, and the Germans were too. We held them there until almost everybody escaped. Then we piled into trucks and jeeps and got out of there.”

At 0515, the German troopers stormed the Second Battalion’s CP. Richard Branton describes the German assualt: “Apparently the Germans knew exactly where important installations were located as they struck first the message center and then the building that housed the Command Post Proper.” The ensuing firefight was desperate. Reverend Kleffman was at the Battalion aid station: “The gunfire got closer and closer, and then their tanks came in. My first thought was to evacuate anybody that was wounded. Our doctor had already fled for his life.” Machine gunner Cecil W. Shaw, who was defending the town from the rafters of a barn, managed to knock out one enemy machine gun before another forced him from his position. Reverend Kleffman, still at the aid station, reported that Shaw “held them off until we got the jeep loaded. I picked him up as we left.” Shaw threw a few grenades and they sped out of town. “We were the last ones out of Schillersdorf,” Reverend Kleffmen recalled. “Then the Germans came in and blew up the hospital unit.” Sgt. Millek apparently had a different view of Shaw’s actions: “I was getting them started out of town when somebody ran by me like a bullet. It was that son of a bitch I’d put up in the barn.

“I asked him about it later. ‘I wasn’t going to stay out there alone,’ he says. I don’t blame him now, but it wasn’t funny at the time.”

Despite Company E’s efforts, which had slowed the German assault, the evacuation of Schillersdorf, however, remained outpaced by the SS advance. 60 mm mortar gunner Pfc. Dennis Bellmore was a member of the group covering the Battalion staffs’ retreat. Wounded and aware that the staff needed more time to evacuate, Bellmore decided to make a stand at an intersection. Sgt. Ray Mysliwiec described what happened next: “I was alongside Dennis Bellmore, brave soul that he was. He was the gunner in my mortar squad. He stood and opened fire with his .45. We didn’t know they had a tank with them. That’s what blew the building apart and killed Dennis. Or maybe it was a bazooka. You hear different stories. The wall collapsed, and he was trapped under the bricks.” As the staffers and soldiers fell back, the reports of Bellmore’s .45 pistol answered bursts of Nazi submachine gun fire for five minutes before falling silent. “[W]e didn’t know [that Bellman had been hit] until we were 100 yards away,” Sgt. Natta recalled, “We tried to get back to him, but there was no way. It was a bad thing for us, feeling like there was someone we couldn’t help. They recovered his body when the town was retaken. He was badly burned.” Pfc. Bellman had purchased his comrades’ safety with his life.

Sgt. Millek described the retreat from Schillersdorf. “The medics had at least one wounded man across a stretcher across the back of a jeep. They got out okay. Then the rest of us dropped out of the town. As we moved back in, we could hear firing, but my own group didn’t fire a shot until we got to the high ground and set up our machine guns. By that time, the krauts had Schillersdorf and came on through the town in some of our captured jeeps. We opened up and turned a couple of them over.

“I remember this kid, a rifleman that I’d converted to a machine gunner. I don’t think that he’d ever fired a machine gun except in training. It was colder than hell, but here he was laying in the snow smiling and shooting. The cold made his nose run and the snot was froze on his face. He was all smiles when he hit those jeeps, but all I could think of was that frozen snot.”

Sgt. Mysliwiec remembered evacuating the town: “Two of our guys grabbed a machine gun and took off. I was all by myself. What the hell, we all ran like scared rabbits. The Germans just kept pouring in. I think I was one of the last ones to get out. I ran from one side of the road to the other till I got to the edge of town and saw they’d stopped firing at me. As I lay in the snow, catching my breath, I could hear a lot of German singing. They had captured Schillersdorf.”


Colonel Harding, 410th Regimental Commander, made plans to retake contain the breakthrough and retake Schillersdorf. Co. C blocked from Menchhoffen and by 0530 Companies A and B were in position to counterattack. At 0630, Company L was dispatched to Schillersdorf. When L Company reached the town, they realized that they were engaging a different type of unit. The SS was Hitler’s legion of Nazi fanatics, an elite fighting force that would not surrender. On this occasion, they were whipped into a drunken frenzy and charged through the snow-covered streets in white camouflage, howling at the top of their lungs. Robert Briggs of L Company’s weapons platoon described the SS troopers as “screaming demons” who “just kept coming.” John C. Calhoun, a 3rd Battalion medic assigned to Company L described them as “drugged, drunk and crazy. They screamed as they ran into our machine guns, rifles and mortars.” John P. White, a weapons platoon messenger for Co. L, specifically remembered an SS trooper who, armed only with a rifle, charged a larger group of GIs and was instantly shot dead. One of the GIs in the group, however, in a despondent rage over recent news that his brother had been killed elsewhere in ETO, emptied an extra clip into the corpse’s head.

The SS used psychological tactics to frighten, confuse and demoralize the troops they fought. Almost every account of the 410th’s dealings with the SS mentions their screaming. Years later, John Blaskiewicz, who seldom spoke of the war, revealed to his family that the only time that he was truly afraid during was listening to the night-piercing shrieks and swears of the invisible German troopers as they raced through Schillersdorf. Elmer Unnerstall, and infantryman who was out of action with an abscessed tooth at the time of his unit’s counterattack, recalled that when he reentered the line he found that the SS had nailed the dogtags of fallen GIs to the doors in Schillersdorf. The sheer force and speed with which the Germans punched through the Division’s line and the efficiency with which they carried out their objectives at the Battalion CP, contributed the chaos in the ranks.

The SS also infiltrated enemy lines and fought in disguise, a daring and dangerous practice, as those who were captured would be summarily shot as spies. On Jan 22, a guard at the bridge in Bousbach had been shot by someone disguised in an FFI uniform, the same night that men evacuated from Company E’s overrun Outpost reported that the assault had been carried out by soldiers dressed as GIs. At Schillersdorf, John White encountered the remains of a German machine gunner donning a Red Cross armband. The extent of German reconnoitering prior to the attack at Schiffersdorf will perhaps never be known, but the fact that during these days, troops only attacked, and in every case took, command posts, is testament to the quality of intelligence that the Germans enjoyed. They exploited every advantage the Americans gave them. They made full use and effective use of Company E’s ineffective leadership and his tactical blundering, and while the SS may not have known the caliber of leadership, they may have surmised it after he knowingly kept the regiment’s flank exposed for several days.

Despite the enemy’s furious efforts, however, although the MLR had not been restored, the Americans stanched the Germans’ penetration at Schillersdorf by 0730. The German assault on the Battalion communications center meant to isolate as many units as possible from the coordinating chain of command, forcing companies and commanders to make uninformed, independent decisions. When the advance was stopped, Company L was sent to the edge of the town. Medic John Calhoun described what happened next, “They walked in the dark 11/2 kilometers and got into an apple orchard as the SS were digging foxholes and setting machine guns. L Co crossed the road to higher ground. [Company I] (as light came) fired mortars into the vineyard where [L Company] was digging foxholes. Finally, [L Company] got the attention of [I Company], and they stopped the mortars. Twenty men in [L Company] were lost, God rest their souls.” Confusion, it seems, was likely the Nazis’ most effective weapon at Schillersdorf.

Having contained the German penetration, Harding’s troops positioned themselves to restore the Main Line of Resistance. By 0800, Company E was dispatched to the town to secure the right flank, and at 0900 the 1st Battalion launched the assault that would clear Schillersdorf of the enemy. Company A (later to be joined by Company C) and two attached tanks assaulted enemy strong points in the town while Bravo Company would pass through the town and restore the gap in the line that the SS had forced. Col. Harding ordered the bruised Company L to eliminate any pockets of resistance that the 1st Battalion had missed.

Soldiers resented having to retake ground. It was difficult to be satisfied with yielding territory friends had already died fighting for, but it was harder to be content with the prospects of the additional casualties the reoccupation of the territory would entail. Towns posed special hazards to advancing GIs. Advancing through a town’s open streets violated one of the most fundamental rules of soldiering: remain as inconspicuous as possible. The less visible the soldier, the less likely someone who wanted to kill him and his buddies would know where to find him. Attacking through open streets between houses occupied by the concealed enemy was tantamount to suicide. In order to advance through villages under cover, infantrymen relied on coordinated efforts of tank and bazooka crews. Branton tells how the 1st Battalion worked its way through Schillersdorf: “House-to-house fighting continued fiercely during the day. The Infantry and tank teams did their work. The tanks blasted one house ahead of the foot troops who then used bazookas and rifle grenades to blow open the side walls of houses. The Cactus men went from one house to another covered all the way.” After the town was retaken, Reverend Kleffman reportedly encountered the corpse of an American dough in the snow. The position of the frozen body suggested that the man had been begging for his life when he was executed.

With the assistance of the 411th Infantry’s Second Battalion, the main line of resistance was restored by the next morning, although afterwards the Cactus Division patrolled the enemy much more aggressively. At day’s end, The 410th held a line composed of, from left to right, Companies E, G, F, B, the 2nd Bn of the 411th Infantry Regiment, and I. Even though the 410th had recovered Schillersdorf at high cost, they inflicted staggering losses on their attackers. On 1 Feb, the interrogation of a German deserter revealed him to be a member of the 3rd Battalion of the 12th SS Mountain Division (Regiment?), the group that had occupied Schillersdorf. Of the 360 men that participated in the attack, he reported, the Germans had lost all but 60.


Two of the German survivors.

Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 33

November 10, 2013

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues!


First: thanks to Pacal for the comments on my last! I don’t disagree with any of these comments, and I didn’t INTEND to be ‘too kind’!

On to this week’s instalment.

In his previous work, notably in his book Discovering Ancient Biblical Hebrew Word Formation (Las Vegas, 2010; see my earlier comments in this blog), David Leonardi has argued that both Ancient (Biblical) Hebrew and Ancient Egyptian have been badly misanalysed by mainstream scholars. In fact, he rejects the accepted decipherment of Egyptian (starting in the 19th Century); and he believes that medieval and modern scholars (starting with the ‘Masoretic’ reformers of Hebrew spelling) have failed to recognise major changes in the use of the Hebrew script (a previously unembellished 22-character ‘abjad’ = an alphabet displaying only consonants) and have thereby missed major changes in the language itself. He holds, in fact, that Ancient Hebrew and Ancient Egyptian were much more closely related than is generally held (he now suggests that the degree of ‘overlap’ is around 80-85% or even higher) – and that the Ancient Hebrew language in particular, with its supposedly coeval abjad, was closely equivalent to a implausibly recent universal ancestor language or ‘Proto-World’ (this itself is an obviously non-standard position).

In a new book (Egyptian Hieroglyphic Decipherment Revealed: A Revisionist Model Of Egyptian Decipherment Showing Evidence That The Ancient Egyptian Language And The Ancient Hebrew Language Are Closely Related; 2013), Leonardi presents, in much greater detail than before, his claim that Ancient Egyptian is closely related to Ancient Hebrew. Leonardi’s focus here is mainly upon vocabulary: Ancient Egyptian and Hebrew words, as written and (as far as can be determined) spoken. Like most non-mainstream authors, he pays little attention to matters of grammar, especially syntax – although grammar is often crucial in establishing relationships between languages. He does refer to matters of morphology; but even here he ignores what is known about the Semitic language ‘family’ which includes Hebrew and also Phoenician (crucial in context), and writes as if Hebrew were considered a language ‘isolate’ with no known (close) ‘genetic’ relatives (like Basque).

Now it is generally agreed by linguists that there is indeed a ‘genetic’ relationship between the Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Hebrew languages; they are both considered part of the Afroasiatic language family which includes Semitic and some other more specific language families. But this does not mean that they are closely related in respect of their vocabulary (or other features), still less that they are the same language or even were to any degree mutually intelligible. Leonardi claims to have a good knowledge of historical linguistics, and he even runs a bulletin board called (arguably misleadingly) simply Historical Linguistics and promoting his idiosyncratic ideas on decipherment and historical morphology (see also below); but he does not appear to grasp this rather basic point (or, if he does grasp it but REJECTS it, he is far too inexplicit about his position). He does attempt to explain the mainstream view in terms of the failure of scholars to notice the allegedly large number of shared features. However, this attempt depends entirely upon three principles (listed by him here as 1)-3)); all of these principles involve his own undemonstrated (and often obscure) reinterpretations of Egyptian and Hebrew.

A review of this book, written with the help of an Egyptologist at the University of Liverpool, is in preparation and will appear in the British skeptical press (reference on request as and when). But to summarise in advance: overall, the model proposed by Leonardi has no basis in reality and can be shown to be incongruous with the slightest academic rigour. Leonardi’s statement ‘[m]y claim is one that can be proven true or false, though it may take years to reach an irrefutable proof’ is extremely bold; but it takes only minutes to demolish it. And when Leonardi claims (personal communication) that ‘the evidence I have gathered thus far would be exceedingly unlikely unless Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Hebrew were [closely] genetically related’ he displays only his own inadequate grasp of the principles involved.

More next time!


For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

The Burzynski Clinic: A Lesson About the Importance of Stories…

November 8, 2013

Last night, Tim Farley broke news that the FDA’s findings into Burzynski’s research practices had been published in the online FOIA reading room. In response, the James Randi Educational Foundation has released its videos of the sessions devoted to Burzynski and other quacks. I talked about a project I have been involved with and contribute to as an English teacher, telling the stories of the patients who did not make it:

David Gorski–Why We Fight, Part 1: Stanislaw Burzynski vs. Science-Based Medicine

Bob Blaskiewicz–Why We Fight, Part 2: “It’s All About the Patients”

TAM panel on science-based medicine:

Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 32

November 3, 2013

Hi again, everybody! ‘Hall Of Shame’ continues!


Morris Swadesh was a mainstream linguist whose ideas became markedly less mainstream towards the end of his life. His approach was intended to extend linguistic reconstruction into the remote past, beyond the range of the established methods of standard comparative methods (using those established methods, forms and families can be reconstructed with any reliability only to a date a little earlier than the earliest written records, that is, to about 10,000 years BP). Swadesh developed statistical methods known as ‘glottochronology’ and ‘lexicostatistics’, which purported to allow reconstructions (and quite precise estimates of date) on the basis of the ‘mass comparison’ of large numbers of superficially similar potential cognates across a wide range of languages, and to arrive at ‘family trees’ which could not be demonstrated using the more clearly reliable traditional comparative methods because the posited time-depths were too great. The theory was rapidly undermined by contrary data from known language ‘families’; it is now invoked mainly by writers with only a limited knowledge of linguistics – although some mainstream linguists, notably William Wang, have revived it in modified forms in more recent times (and some ‘maverick’ linguists such as Merritt Ruhlen have adopted broadly similar approaches) However, Swadesh himself persisted with his own initial version of glottochronology, and towards the end of his life his proposals – set out in an ultimately posthumous book (The Origin and Diversification of Language, Chicago, 1971) – became truly wild (by this time he was working in Mexico after coming under suspicion in the USA for his overtly left-wing views) . For instance, he presents a map of the Earth purporting to show the probable geographical distribution of language ‘families’ in 25,000 BCE.

One group of contemporary non-linguists who still use Swadesh’s methods is the Russian group of chronological-revisionist historians led by Anatoli Fomenko. Fomenko argues that conventional historical chronology is seriously awry and that several bogus centuries have been inserted by way of scholarly error into the accepted accounts of ancient and even medieval history. He and his associates advance novel interpretations of linguistic evidence by way of support for these ideas, based on glottochronological methods.

For some critical but not wholly unsupportive comment on these thinkers, see the work of the Canadian mathematician Florian Diacu, notably The Lost Millennium: History’s Timetables Under Siege (Toronto, 2005), especially pp. 199-206 on Fomenko and the historical dialectologist Andrey Zalyzniak. Zalyzniak is the linguistically-most-competent of Fomenko’s associates, and joins Fomenko in accepting glottochronology, although in fact his own main body of academic work is not centrally relevant here. Associated with this material is Diacu’s thought on catastrophism, as outlined in his 2009 book Megadisasters: The Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe. See also his ‘Mathematical Methods in the Study of Historical Chronology’, at

More moderate historical claims of a broadly similar nature are rehearsed on sites such as

Roger Wescott, a ‘neo-Velikovksyan’ catastrophist, a ‘saltationist’ evolutionist, a ‘Nostraticist’ (Nostratic is a deep-time ancestor of Indo-European and several other language families, reconstructed/accepted by various linguists on the margins of the mainstream) and a qualified linguist, adopted a glottochronological approach to the early development of language in Homo sapiens; he too posited relatively recent dates for the commencement of diversification, partly because he dates sapiens itself as originating as recently as 55,000 BCE and partly because of his catastrophist account of the recent history of the planet (many pre-existing cultures and their languages, if these existed, would have been destroyed in any Velikovskyan catastrophe). See his book The Divine Animal (New York, 1969), and the book Language Origins (Silver Spring, MD, 1974), which he edited; see also, for example,

Wescott has understandably been adopted as a ‘pet linguist’ by neo-Velikovskyan catastrophists who themselves know little linguistics; his ideas have indeed been extended by writers of this persuasion such as David Talbott and the more extreme Ted Holden. In The Saturn Myth (New York, 1980), Talbott seeks to explain myths from around the world and the associated vocabulary as referring to a series of major-planet catastrophes and to the very different configuration of the Solar System which preceded them (Earth and the other inner planets were supposedly in captive rotation about a then-much-larger Saturn) – often obliquely and non-transparently, but according to Talbott with a startling degree of conformity. Holden’s material can be sampled at, etc. For Holden’s questions for mainstream scholars and brief but telling responses, see Wayne Throop, ‘Ted Holden’s Frequent Questions Answered’, available at, especially Why aren’t languages and ancestry better correlated?,
Why have languages gotten simpler instead of more complex?.

More next time!


For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.

Linguistics ‘Hall of Shame’ 31

October 27, 2013


In 1818 Joseph Jacotot reportedly discovered – commencing from experiences using a bilingual (French/Flemish) text of Archbishop Fénelon’s novel Télémaque – that students can be effectively taught in languages which they do not know, and that they can be taught to read by illiterates (such as the parents of his own pupils). Jacotot believed that all people were already possessed of vast amounts of latent knowledge which a teacher had only to ‘bring out’ (and which individuals lacking a teacher could actually ‘bring out’ in themselves). Some of the methods which Jacotot employed under the rubric ‘ignorant schoolmaster’ do appear usable; but the anecdotal nature of the reports hinders assessment of the degree to which his stronger claims can be accepted.

For much more on Jacotot, see Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (Kristin Ross trans.) (Stanford, CA, 1991).

More next time!


For my book Strange Linguistics, see:

Copies are available through me at the author’s 50% discount, for EU 26.40 including postage to anywhere outside Germany. Please let me know if you’d like one, suggest means of payment (Paypal is possible) and provide your preferred postal address.