The Allusionist

The Allusionist

theallusionist.org
Adventures in language with Helen Zaltzman


110. Engraving part 1
Nov 26 • 27 min
When Dave Nadelberg of Mortified used to visit his mother’s grave, he would look around at the nearby gravestones and see similar - or even the exact same - epitaphs for lots of different people. And it made him curious: who were these people, really?…
109. East West
Nov 13 • 28 min
On 9 November 1989, the demolition of the Berlin Wall began. Within a year, Germany was unified. East Germany dissolved and was incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany, took on its currency and its rules - and its lexicon. Both West and East…
108. Enjoy!
Oct 30 • 23 min
In the last Food Season episode of the current batch, we get into the language of restaurant service - specifically those terms that give some of us fiery indigestion, like “Enjoy!” or “Are you still working on that?” Restaurant psychologist Stephani…
107. Apples
Oct 8 • 27 min
Late 2019 will see the biggest apple launch of our lifetimes. 22 years in the making, ripening on millions of trees into picture-perfect redness, here comes the WA38, more snazzily known as the Cosmic Crisp. The name was the result of a year of focus…
106. Typo Demom
Sep 15 • 20 min
Ever misspelled a word or committed a typo? It wasn’t your fault; you were demonically possessed. Ian Chillag from Everything is Alive podcast introduces us to Titivillus, the typo demon. Find out more about this episode at theallusionist.org/typo-demon.…
105. F’ood
Sep 3 • 31 min
When is cheese not cheese, or crab not crab? When it’s spelled cheez or krab or even ch’eese or cra’b… Novelty spellings for foods-that-aren’t-made-out-of-the-thing-they-sound-like-they’re-made-out-of go back a pretty long way - ‘cheez’ was THE…
104. Words into Food
Aug 17 • 16 min
It’s Food Season at the Allusionist. Last episode we learned all about compiling recipes, turning food into words. This time, we meet someone who turns words into food - no, she doesn’t make Alphabetti Spaghetti. When Kate Young of the Little Library Cafe…
103. Food Into Words
Aug 5 • 24 min
When recipe writing is done well, the skill and effort involved might not be evident. But explaining the different steps clearly so that people of varying culinary abilities and equipment can cook it, and indeed want to make it, and translating flavour…
102. New Rules
Jul 13 • 18 min
I don’t know exactly when or where, but at some point in the past few years, I stopped putting punctuation at the end of sentences. Why? The internet made me do it! Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch, cohost of Lingthusiasm podcast and the author of the…
101. Two Or More
Jun 26 • 26 min
Oysters, fragrances, canoeing, space stations, God, hats, and of course people - the word ‘bisexual’ has described a great deal of different things, with different meanings, in its fairly short existence. And that whole time, it has had a pretty bumpy…
56+12. Joins & Pride
Jun 7 • 27 min
To celebrate Pride Month, I’m playing two of the Allusionist episodes that have stuck with me the most during the show’s existence. The first is Joins. You listeners talk about your particular experiences in your trans bodies, dealing with the available…
100. The Hundredth
May 27 • 29 min
To mark the 100th* episode of the Allusionist, here’s a celebratory parade of language-related facts: some of your favourites from the Allusionist back catalogue, some of my favourites from the Allusionist back catalogue, and a load of fresh facts making…
99. Polari
May 12 • 31 min
When there were no safe spaces to be gay, Polari allowed gay men to identify and communicate with each other, and to keep things secret from outsiders. Professor Paul Baker, author of the Polari dictionary and the new book Fabulosa! The Story of Polari,…
98. Alter Ego
Apr 26 • 28 min
Today: three pieces about alter egos, when your name - the words by which the world knows you - is replaced by another for particular purposes, such as competing in roller derby, writing popular but disreputable detective novels, or being legally…
97. The Future is Now?
Apr 11 • 15 min
“There are two ways to say ‘The future is now’: you can say it optimistically, like, ‘The future is now! Isn’t that cool?’ Or you could be like, ‘The future is now, and we’re totally screwed.’” Rose Eveleth, of the future-envisioning podcast Flash…
96. Trust
Mar 26 • 18 min
“Trust isn’t a brand that you should use. It’s a social glue that, when it breaks down, has really huge consequences to our lives.” Trust expert and author Rachel Botsman explains why we need to protect this word that has remained steadfast throughout its…
95. Verisimilitude
Mar 10 • 28 min
When you’re watching a fantasy or science fiction show, and the characters are speaking a language that does not exist in this world but sounds like it could - that doesn’t happen by accident, or improvisation. A lot - a LOT! - of work goes into inventing…
94. Harsh Realm
Feb 21 • 27 min
On 15 November 1992, the New York Times printed a ‘Lexicon of Grunge’, a list of slang terms from the Seattle music scene. ‘Harsh realm’ = bummer. ‘Wack slacks’ = old ripped jeans. ‘Swingin’ on the flippity-flop’ = hanging out. Not familiar with any of…
93. Gossip
Feb 9 • 18 min
‘Idle’, ‘trivial’, ‘scurrilous’: the word ‘gossip’ is often accompanied by uncomplimentary adjectives. But don’t dismiss it; from childbirth to Hollywood to political analysis to whisper networks, gossip may be more useful and serious than you realise.…
92. To Err Is Human
Jan 24 • 18 min
If you wince when you hear someone say “a whole nother level”, “hone in on” or “right from the gecko”, here’s some bad news: you might have to get used to it. The English language is full of words and expressions that were mistakes that stuck around.…
Extra special QUIZ!
Dec 18, 2018 • 13 min
For a bit of fun to celebrate Radiotopia’s 2018 fundraiser, this episode is a wordy quiz for you to play along with as you listen. Get a pen and paper, or fill in your answers online at http://theallusionist.org/2018quiz. Also! I’ve put together an…
91. Bonus 2018
Dec 15, 2018 • 16 min
Throughout the year, the people who appear on the Allusionist tell me a lot of interesting stuff. Not all of which is relevant to the episode they initially appeared in, so I stash it away in preparation for this moment: the annual bonus episode! Get…
90. Dear Santa
Nov 30, 2018 • 17 min
Jim Glaub and Dylan Parker didn’t think too much of it when, every year, a few letters were delivered to their New York apartment addressed to Santa. But then one year, 400 letters arrived. And they decided they had to answer them. Find out more about…
89. WPM
Nov 17, 2018 • 16 min
This is a story of feats of speed and endurance, of record-breakers, of champions… Typing champions. Recorded live at the Hot Docs Podcast Festival in the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto on 4 November 2018, WPM is performed by me and Martin…
88. Name Changers
Nov 4, 2018 • 27 min
Why did you change your name? And why did you choose the name you chose? Listeners answer these two questions. Hear their stories of gender identity, family fallouts, marriages, divorces, doxxing, cults, and…just not liking your given name very much. Find…
87. Name v. Law
Oct 21, 2018 • 29 min
Iceland has quite exacting laws about what its citizens can be named, and only around 4,000 names are on the officially approved list. If you want a name that deviates from that list, you have to send an application to the Icelandic Naming Committee,…
86. Name Therapy
Oct 8, 2018 • 26 min
“It’s the word that you use the most often and the soonest to describe yourself, and yet nobody’s really ever talked about how it kind of makes me feel like this.” Until Duana Taha, who, after a lifetime of feelings about her own unique name, became the…
85. Skin Story
Sep 23, 2018 • 17 min
“I wanted a story that actually lives, and actually dies, and disappears.” In 2003, artist and author Shelley Jackson started the Skin Project: a story printed, word by word, as tattoos on volunteers. https://ineradicablestain.com/skindex.html Find more…
84. Trammels
Sep 8, 2018 • 19 min
Why would you write books or poems or plays with only one vowel? Or in palindromes? Or only using the example sentences in dictionaries? Sometimes you need to force yourself to jump a few hurdles (and perhaps the rest of the obstacle course) before your…
83. Yes, As In
Aug 26, 2018 • 26 min
“Really? As in the animal/foodstuff/music genre?” “Is that a stripper name?” “What were your parents thinking?” When your name is a word that is more usually a noun or adjective than a human moniker, you hear the same questions a lot. But there’s a story…
82. A Novel Remedy
Aug 12, 2018 • 20 min
When you’re feeling unwell, what’s the book you read to make yourself feel better? And why does it work? Clinical psychologist Jane Gregory explains why she sometimes prescribes novel-reading to her patients; and academic Guy Cuthbertson tells how…
81. Shark Week
Jul 27, 2018 • 23 min
Today, we’re dipping into the Allusionist mailbag full of listeners’ linguistic requests, with the help of special guest Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder and The West Wing Weekly podcasts. What is the expression ‘beyond the pale’ on about? How do you…
Imaginary Advice: S.E.I.N.F.E.L.D.
Jun 29, 2018 • 26 min
Hello! I’m currently in hospital so am having to take a little time off work. Therefore, instead of a new Allusionist episode today, here’s my favourite audio piece I’ve heard this year: ‘S.E.I.N.F.E.L.D.’ from Ross Sutherland’s podcast Imaginary Advice.…
80. Warm Front
Jun 16, 2018 • 15 min
Today will be fine. But wait: fine as in ‘OK’, fine as in ‘really rather good’, or fine as in ‘no precipitation’? When you’re a TV weather forecaster, you have to deal with the mismatch of your specialist vocabulary with that of the meteorological…
79. Queer
Jun 3, 2018 • 25 min
Strange or obtuse; a stinging homophobic slur; a radical political rejection of normativity; a broad term encompassing every and any variation on sexual orientation and gender identity: the word ‘queer’ has a multifarious past and complicated present.…
78. Oot in the Open
May 21, 2018 • 23 min
You are born and raised in a household speaking a language. Then you start going to school, and that language is banned. If you speak it, you’ll be punished physically or psychologically. Across your country, there are people like you who associate their…
42+43. Survival: The Key rerun
May 4, 2018 • 24 min
To accompany the current Allusionist miniseries Survival, about minority languages facing suppression and extinction, we’re revisiting this double bill of The Key episodes about why languages die and how they can be resuscitated. The Rosetta Stone and its…
77. Survival part 1: Second Home
Apr 20, 2018 • 25 min
There are two main places in the world where the Welsh language is spoken: Wales, and the Chubut Province in Patagonia. How did this ancient language take root in rural Argentina, 12,000km away from its home base? Find out more about this episode at…
76. Across the Pond
Apr 6, 2018 • 23 min
Pavement/sidewalk; football/soccer; bum bag/fanny pack: we know that the English language is different in the UK and the USA. But why? Linguist Lynne Murphy points out the geographical, cultural and social influences that separate the common language.…
75. Ear Hustling
Mar 23, 2018 • 15 min
Today we’re going inside to open up the unofficial dictionary of San Quentin state prison, compiled by Earlonne Woods of Ear Hustle podcast. Content note: this episode contains some Adult Terms. Find out more about this episode at…
74. Take A Swear Pill
Mar 9, 2018 • 25 min
CONTENT WARNING: there is swearing in this episode. But the happy news is: swearing is good for you! Dr Emma Byrne, author of Swearing Is Good For You, explains how swearing can be beneficial to your physical health and emotional wellbeing, while Matt…
73. Supername!
Feb 23, 2018 • 18 min
Up in the sky: look! It’s an adjective! It’s a noun! It’s…Adjectivenoun! Your friendly neighbourhood superheroes might have thrilling and varied powers and spandex garments, but the way their names are concocted have followed only a handful of formulae in…
72. Hey
Feb 9, 2018 • 20 min
“Hey.” “Going to the supermarket, want me to get you anything?” “Puppies or ice cream?” “What’s your glasses prescription?” “I wanna ***** your *********.” If you’ve used a dating app, maybe you’ve received one of the above messages from a stranger, or…
71. Triumph/Trumpet/Top/Fart
Jan 26, 2018 • 18 min
It’s a year since Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. And in that year, he’s caused a lot of changes in the job of constitutional law professor Elizabeth Joh of TrumpConLaw podcast – in particular, one verb is now off…
70. Bonus 2017
Dec 22, 2017 • 20 min
It’s the annual bonus episode. Throughout the year, the people who appear on the show tell me a lot of interesting stuff, not all of which is relevant to the episode they initially appeared in, so I stash it away in preparation for this moment. This year,…
69. How the Dickens stole Christmas
Dec 9, 2017 • 27 min
Charles Dickens wrote about the plight of the impoverished and destitute members of British society. So how come his name is a synonym for rosy-cheeked, full-stomached, fattened-goose, hearty merry “God bless us every one” Christmas? Avery Trufelman and…
68. Curse Soup
Nov 24, 2017 • 15 min
Somebody has really ticked you off. You’re all steamed up inside and you want to vent that rage using words, but you don’t want to confront them directly because you’re either too polite or too cowardly. So do you: A. Subtweet them. B. With your finger,…
67. Open Me part II
Nov 10, 2017 • 25 min
You’re holding a letter. What’s inside? A weather report from 5,000 miles away? Some devastating family history? A single word? A heartfelt dispatch from your past self that’s about to change the course of your life? Find out more about this episode at…
66. Open Me part I
Oct 27, 2017 • 19 min
From Me To You’s Alison Hitchcock and Brian Greenley didn’t know each other well. But when Brian was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Alison offered to write him letters. 100 letters later, their lives were changed. One of the newest members of Radiotopia…
65. Eponyms III: Who’s That Guy?
Oct 13, 2017 • 20 min
Roman Mars returns for our annual dose of eponyms – words that derive from people’s names. This year: explosive revelations about the origins of the word ‘guy’. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/guy. CONTENT NOTE: the episode…
64. Technobabble
Sep 30, 2017 • 22 min
You’ve encountered technobabble when Doc Brown is shouting about flux capacitors in Back To The Future, or when Isaac Asimov writes about positronic brains. Astrophysicist Katie Mack and NASA JPL technologist Manan Arya discuss how science fact relates to…
63. Evolution of Accents
Sep 15, 2017 • 24 min
“Accent is identity. It’s a way of encoding and signaling – almost completely at an unconscious level for most people – who they feel like they are, who they want to be seen as, what group they feel like they belong to.” The podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz…
62. In Crypt, Decrypt
Sep 2, 2017 • 27 min
Crossword-solving is often a solitary activity – over breakfast; on the train; on the loo… But a few times a year, crossword puzzle enthusiasts gather in their hundreds to compete to be the fastest, most accurate crossword-solver. This episode comes to…
61. In Your Hand
Aug 19, 2017 • 13 min
“It’s sort of frozen body language; that’s what handwriting analysis is about.” Since it caught on a couple of hundred years ago, graphology – analysing handwriting to deduce characteristics of the writer – has struggled to be taken seriously as a…
60. Zillions
Aug 5, 2017 • 18 min
They look like numbers. They sound like numbers. You kinda know they are numbers. But they’re not actually numbers. Linguistic anthropologist Stephen Chrisomalis explains what’s going on with indefinite hyperbolic numerals like ‘zillion’, ‘squillion’ and…
59. One To Another
Jun 30, 2017 • 18 min
Translation, A Love Story: Translator listens to The Allusionist. Translator hears about the podcast The Memory Palace. Translator listens to The Memory Palace. Translator immediately becomes smitten with The Memory Palace. Translator translates The…
58. Eclipse
Jun 16, 2017 • 23 min
It’s August 2007. Lauren Marks is a 27-year-old actor and a PhD student, spending the month directing a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She’s in a bar, standing onstage, performing a karaoke duet of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’…and then a blood…
57. AD/BC
Jun 2, 2017 • 16 min
There’s a small matter I trip over regularly in the Allusionist: Dates. Not the fruit. Specicially, the terms BC and AD, Before Christ and Anno Domini (‘the year of the Lord’ (‘the Lord’ also being Christ)). How did Jesus Christ get to be all up in our…
56. Joins
May 19, 2017 • 17 min
As discussed in episode 51, Under the Covers part II, the vocabulary for sex and associated body parts is tricky to navigate in many ways – but even more so if you are trans or gender non-binary. CONTENT NOTE: this episode contains strong language and…
55. Namaste
May 5, 2017 • 17 min
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder wants people to stop saying ‘namaste’ after a yoga session. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/namaste. Stay in touch…
54. The Authority
Apr 14, 2017 • 13 min
“Sometimes you want to make the dictionary sexy but it’s just not a sexy thing,” says Kory Stamper, lexicographer for the Merriam-Webster dictionaries. Sorry if this is disillusioning news for you. The dictionary is not a sexy thing, but as Kory explains,…
53. The Away Team
Mar 31, 2017 • 16 min
“Recognizing someone’s humanity is crucial. Calling someone a migrant, calling someone an asylum seeker, calling them a refugee: these are official categories. But in many ways, depending on how they use them, they can change and become more negative.” So…
14 rerun: Behave
Mar 17, 2017 • 14 min
Sometimes words can become your worst enemy. Clinical psychologist Jane Gregory tells how to defuse their power. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/behave-rerun. The main part of this episode is a rerun, but there’s new material…
52. Sanctuary
Mar 7, 2017 • 16 min
The term ‘sanctuary cities’ has been in the news a lot in the past few weeks, as places in the USA declare themselves to be havens for undocumented immigrants. Though ‘sanctuary’ has a history of meaning safety for the persecuted, it has an even longer…
51. Under the Covers – part II
Feb 21, 2017 • 15 min
Does the available vocabulary for sex leave something to be desired? Namely desire? (And also the ability to use it wthout laughing/dying of embarrassment?) Aiding in the search for a better sex lexicon – sexicon – are Kaitlin Prest of fellow Radiotopia…
50. Under the Covers – part I
Feb 8, 2017 • 17 min
Escape into the loving embrace of a romance novel – although don’t think you’ll be able to escape gender politics while you’re in there. Bea and Leah Koch, proprietors of America’s sole romance-only bookstore The Ripped Bodice, consider the genre; and…
49. Bonus 2016
Dec 30, 2016 • 17 min
Why is gaslighting ‘gaslighting’? What do bodily fluids have to do with personality traits? Why does ‘cataract’ mean a waterfall and an eye condition? And do doctors really say ‘Stat!’ or is that just in ER? To round off 2016, here’s the bonus edition of…
48. Winterval
Dec 6, 2016 • 12 min
There’s a word that has become shorthand for ‘the war on Christmas’ with a side of ‘political correctness gone mad’: Winterval. It began in November 1998. Newspapers furiously accused Birmingham City Council of renaming Christmas when it ran festive…
47. The Year Without a Summer
Nov 21, 2016 • 20 min
Today: a tale of darkness, gathering storms, and a terrifying creature that resembles a human man… No, nothing topical: it’s The Year Without A Summer, the story of how Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. This piece first appeared on Eric Molinsky’s…
46. The State Of It
Nov 4, 2016 • 19 min
Each of the 50 states in the USA has its own motto. The motto might be found on the state seal, or the state flag; more often than not, it might be in Latin, or Spanish, or Chinook; it might be a phrase or a single word. And if you think you know what…
45. Eponyms II: Name That Disease
Oct 16, 2016 • 18 min
If you love eponyms like Roman Mars loves eponyms, I’m afraid physician Isaac Siemens is here to deliver some bad news: medics are ditching them, in favour of terms that a) contain information about what the ailment actually is, and/or b) don’t honour…
44: This Is Your Brain On Language
Oct 3, 2016 • 12 min
What is your beautiful brain up to as you comprehend language? Cognitive psychologist Jenni Rodd takes a peek. Visit http://theallusionist.org/brain for more information about this topic. Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and…
43. The Key part II: Vestiges
Sep 20, 2016 • 12 min
If you don’t have a Rosetta Stone to hand, deciphering extinct languages can be a real puzzle, even though they didn’t intend to be. They didn’t intend to become extinct, either, but such is the life (and death) of languages. NB: there is a CATEGORY B…
42. The Key part I: Rosetta
Sep 7, 2016 • 14 min
Languages die. But if they’re lucky, a thousand-odd years later, someone unearths an artefact that brings them back to life. Laura Welcher of the Rosetta Project shows us the Rosetta Disk, a slice of electroplated nickel three inches in diameter that…
41. Getting Toasty
Aug 21, 2016 • 16 min
When you choose to spend the winter in Antarctica, you’ll be prepared for it to be cold. You know that nobody will be leaving or arriving until springtime. And you’re braced for months of darkness. But a few weeks after the last sunset, you might find you…
40. Olympics
Aug 5, 2016 • 8 min
On your marks… Get set… GO! It’s the Etymolympics, where the gymnastics should be gymnaked and the hurdles are a bloodbath. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/olympics. Be an Olympic-level champ and express your opinions about…
39. Generation What?
Jul 12, 2016 • 15 min
Which are you: Millennial, Generation X, Baby Boomer, Silent Generation, an impressively young-looking Arthurian Generation? Or are you an individual who refuses to be labelled? Demographer Neil Howe, author Miranda Sawyer and Megan Tan, the host of…
38. Small Talk
Jun 25, 2016 • 12 min
“How are you?” “Oh, fine – and you?” “Yeah, not bad. Nice day today, isn’t it?” “Yes, it was a bit chilly this morning, but now the sun’s come out…” [Continue until the lift arrives, or until the end of time.] Small talk is usually not conveying much…
12 rerun: Pride
Jun 14, 2016 • 13 min
This week seems like a good one to listen again to last year’s episode Pride, about how the word came to be chosen for LGBTQ Pride. Activist and publisher Craig Schoonmaker tells the story. There are full show notes and links to additional material at…
37. Brand It
May 29, 2016 • 19 min
Got a company or a product or a website you need to name? Well, be wary of the potential pitfalls: trademark disputes; pronounceability; being mistaken for a dead body… Name developer Nancy Friedman explains how she helps companies find the right names,…
36. Big Lit
May 17, 2016 • 14 min
‘Classics’ started off meaning Latin and Greek works, then works that smacked of similar, and now – what, exactly? Books that are full of bonnets and dust? Author Kevin Smokler and bookseller Jonathan Main unpick what constitutes a classic, old or new.…
35. Word of the Day
May 1, 2016 • 13 min
Open up a dictionary, and you’ll find the history of human behaviour, the key to your own psychological state, and a lot of fun words about cats. Dictionary.com’s Renae Hurlbutt and Jane Solomon lead the way. There’s more about this episode at…
34. Continental
Apr 16, 2016 • 13 min
‘Continent’, as in a land mass, is much more complicated semantically than the bodily function control sense of ‘continent’. Plus: more ‘please’, and how ‘thank you’ is not necessarily an expression of gratitude. TL;DR: trust nothing. There’s more about…
33. Please
Apr 1, 2016 • 14 min
There’s an ocean between Britain and the USA, but an even wider division between each country’s use of a particular word: ‘please’. Linguists Lynne Murphy and Rachele De Felice explain how one nation’s obsequiousness is another nation’s obnoxiousness.…
32. Soho
Mar 18, 2016 • 12 min
Around the world, there are several places called Soho, getting their names from an acronym/portmanteau-ish composite of local streets or neighbouring areas. But not the original Soho in London. In fact, London’s place names are an etymological…
31. Post-Love
Mar 5, 2016 • 16 min
Breaking up is hard to do, and it’s hard to put into appropriate words. Comedian Rosie Wilby seeks a better term for ‘ex’, and family law barrister Nick Allen runs through the vocabulary of divorce. NOTE: this episode is not full of bawdy talk, but there…
30. US Election Lexicon
Feb 17, 2016 • 17 min
The 2016 US election isn’t going away anytime soon, so let’s seek refuge in etymology. Consider the linguistically appropriate age of a senator, and whether Congress should get sexy. And we revisit the UK Election Lexicon –…
29. WLTM part II
Feb 5, 2016 • 19 min
You’re looking for your perfect partner, but dating sites keep matching you with duds. So what do you do? Conduct an elaborate linguistic experiment, of course! At least, that was futurist Amy Webb’s response to the situation. But did it work? For full…
28. WLTM part I
Jan 28, 2016 • 19 min
Your online dating profile is the latest spin on a 300-year-old tradition of advertising yourself in order to find a spouse, a sexual partner, or someone to take care of your pigs. Francesca Beauman, author of Shapely Ankle Preferr’d: A History of the…
27. Bonus 2015
Dec 23, 2015 • 15 min
For the last episode of 2015, here’s a melange of etymologies requested by listeners, and anecdotes there wasn’t room for in the show earlier this year. We’ve got Klingon! Acid trips! The plural of ‘octopus’! An unwitting cameo from Cliff Richard!…
26. Xmas Man
Dec 2, 2015 • 13 min
CONTENT WARNING: Be wary of listening to this episode around young children, as there may be life spoilers. Historian Greg Jenner traces the origins of that mythical beardy man who turns up in December with gifts. Helen Zaltzman also ensures her permanent…
25. Toki Pona
Nov 18, 2015 • 17 min
There’s a language which is said to be the smallest language in the world. It has around 123 words, five vowels, nine consonants, and apparently you can become fluent in it with around 30 hours’ study. It was invented by linguist Sonja Lang in 2001, and…
24. Spill Your Guts
Nov 4, 2015 • 17 min
It’s cathartic; it’s a useful historical record; and it might help you behave better on public transport. Neil Katcher and Dave Nadelberg from Mortified discuss the art and practice of keeping a diary. Find the Mortified podcast, stage shows, documentary,…
23. Criminallusionist
Oct 28, 2015 • 21 min
Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer from the podcast Criminal stop by to talk about the linguistic challenges of crime reporting. They also share their episode ‘Pants on Fire’, about lying. It’s an extremely useful handbook if you fancy becoming either a…
22. Vocables
Oct 21, 2015 • 10 min
La la la, dum di di dum, a wop bop a loo bop a wop bom bom – why are songs riddled with non-words masquerading as words? Hrishikesh Hirway from Song Exploder and songwriter Tony Hazzard explain. Read more about this episode at…
21. Eponyms I: The Ballad of Bic and Biro
Oct 14, 2015 • 17 min
Naming something after yourself: a grand display of egomania, or the humble willingness to be overshadowed by your own product? Stationery expert James Ward tells the tale of the people who begat the eponymous ballpoint pens Bic and Biro, because,…
20. Baby Talk
Oct 7, 2015 • 9 min
Why do we all sound like idiots when we talk to babies? Don’t be embarrassed, we’re helping them acquire language. Child psychologist Ben Jeffes explains. There is more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/baby-talk. Say hello at…
19. Architecting About Dance
Sep 24, 2015 • 12 min
“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture” is a problematic statement: not just because nobody can agree on who came up with it, but because dancing about architecture doesn’t seem particularly far-fetched. Talking about dance, however –…
18. Fix part II
Sep 9, 2015 • 13 min
The messiness of English is the price of its success. It is the most widely spoken language in the world, geographically, being an official language in 88 different countries, and there are countless different versions of it all over the world. With so…
17. Fix part I
Aug 28, 2015 • 17 min
The English language is a mess. And if you don’t like it, what are you going to do about it – fix it? Good luck with that. In the early 18th century, a movement of grammarians and authors wanted to set up an official authority to regulate English, like…
16. Word Play
Aug 12, 2015 • 13 min
Words are all over the place. So how do you turn them into fun games? Here to show the way is Leslie Scott, founder of Oxford Games and inventor of more than forty games – including word games such as Ex Libris, Anagram and Flummoxed, and the non-word…
15. Step Away
Jul 29, 2015 • 18 min
‘Step-‘, as in stepparents or stepchildren, originated in grief. Family structures have evolved, but are stepmothers now so tainted by fairytale associations with the word ‘wicked’ that we need new terminology? Lore’s Aaron Mahnke stops by to describe the…
14. Behave
Jul 1, 2015 • 13 min
Sometimes words can become your worst enemy. Clinical psychologist Jane Gregory tells how to defuse their power. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/behave. This episode concerns mental health, and the discussion nudges some…
13. Mixed Emojions
Jun 17, 2015 • 15 min
Emoji allow communication without words. Could emoji be the universal language of the 21st century? Matt Gray and Tom Scott, founders of the emoji-only messaging platform emoj.li, talk through the pitfalls; and History Today’s Dr Kate Wiles finds the 500-…
12. Pride
Jun 3, 2015 • 13 min
“The poison is shame. The antidote is pride.” It’s June; the President of the USA has officially designated it LGBT Pride Month, and there’ll be Pride events around the world. But how did the word ‘pride’ came to be the banner word for demonstrations and…
11. Brunchtime
May 20, 2015 • 11 min
What does brunch have to do with Lewis Carroll? Fall down the rabbit hole of brunch semantics with Dan Pashman of the Sporkful podcast http://sporkful.com. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/brunch. Tweet @allusionistshow, and…
10. Election Lexicon
May 6, 2015 • 7 min
On the eve of the 2015 General Election in the UK, take a jaunt through the etymology of election-related words. Find out why casting a vote should be more like basketball, and why polling is hairy. There’s more about this episode at…
9. The Space Between
Apr 22, 2015 • 9 min
I know this is a show about words, but forget the words for a moment; look at the spaces between the words. Without the spaces, the words would be nigh incomprehensible. Dr Kate Wiles explains the history of the space. Visit theallusionist.org/spaces to…
8. Crosswords
Apr 8, 2015 • 15 min
Cryptic crosswords: delightful brain exercise, or the infernal taunting of the incomprehensible? Either way, crossword setter John Feetenby explains how they’re made and how to solve them. Visit theallusionist.org/crosswords to find out more about this…
7. Mountweazel
Mar 25, 2015 • 14 min
You’d think you could trust dictionaries, but it turns out, they are riddled with LIES. Visit theallusionist.org/mountweazel to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Also please give us your…
6. The Writing On The Wall
Mar 11, 2015 • 14 min
Those words on museum walls that you can’t be bothered to read? They’re more important than you think… Exhibition-maker Rachel Souhami explains why. Visit theallusionist.org/museums to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene…
5. Latin Lives!
Feb 25, 2015 • 11 min
Every week since September 1989, a radio station in Finland has broadcast a weekly news bulletin…in Latin. WHY? Let’s find out! Visit theallusionist.org/latin to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at…
4. Detonating the C-Bomb
Feb 11, 2015 • 16 min
WARNING: this episode contains lots of swearing and words which some of you may find offensive. If, however, you love offensive words, you will enjoy this episode, which is all about how the C-word doesn’t deserve to be the pariah of cusses. Visit…
3. Going Viral
Jan 28, 2015 • 14 min
Remember when ‘viral’ used to only mean something bad, IE something that would make you ill or destroy your computer? How things have changed. Tom Phillips from Buzzfeed UK explains the language they choose to make content go viral. Visit…
2. Bosom Holder
Jan 14, 2015 • 13 min
There are many synonyms for ‘underwear’. There are many synonyms for the body parts you keep in your underwear. But there’s only one word for ‘bra’. Visit http://theallusionist.org/bras to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and…
1. Ban The Pun.
Jan 14, 2015 • 15 min
In late 2014, China announced it was to ban puns. Helen Zaltzman wishes she could ban puns in her own family. Warning: this episode features some hideous incidences of wordplay. Visit http://theallusionist.org/puns to find out more about this episode.…