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The Allusionist

Etymological adventures with Helen Zaltzman

Episodes

Podcast: The Allusionist: 29. WLTM part II

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? [more inside]
posted by jazon on Feb 7, 2016 at 2:17 PM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 28. WLTM part I

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. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Jan 29, 2016 at 6:30 AM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 26. Xmas Man

Historian Greg Jenner traces the origins of that mythical beardy man who turns up in December with gifts. Helen Zaltzman also ensures her permanent removal from everybody’s Christmas card lists. CONTENT WARNING: Be wary of listening to this episode around young children, as there may be life spoilers. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Dec 10, 2015 at 9:26 AM - 2 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 25. Toki Pona

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 it's called Toki Pona. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Nov 21, 2015 at 7:13 PM - 4 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 24. Spill Your Guts

It’s cathartic; it’s useful historical records; 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. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Nov 11, 2015 at 3:42 PM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 23. Criminallusionist

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 human polygraph, or an excellent liar. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Nov 1, 2015 at 5:37 PM - 1 comment

Podcast: The Allusionist: 22. Vocables

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. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Oct 25, 2015 at 8:52 AM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 21. Eponyms I: The Ballad of Bic and Biro

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 ... [more inside]
posted by jazon on Oct 15, 2015 at 6:36 AM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 20. Baby Talk

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. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Oct 12, 2015 at 6:35 AM - 1 comment

Podcast: The Allusionist: 19. Architecting About Dance

"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 – that’s really difficult. How do you put a wordless form of communication into words? Audio describer Alice Sanders and choreographer Steven Hoggett take the issue for a twirl. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Sep 24, 2015 at 12:42 PM - 2 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 18. Fix part II

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 many speakers in so many places, it would be impossible to establish a single 'correct' form of English; and, as became evident in Fix part I, to try to do so is a losing game. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Sep 15, 2015 at 10:22 AM - 2 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 17. Fix part I

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. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Sep 1, 2015 at 7:30 AM - 1 comment

Podcast: The Allusionist: 16. Word Play

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 game Jenga. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Aug 14, 2015 at 3:45 PM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 15. Step Away

‘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 lovelessness, literary tropes and life expectancy around ‘step-‘. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Jul 31, 2015 at 6:16 AM - 1 comment

Podcast: The Allusionist: 14. Behave

Sometimes words can become your worst enemy. Clinical psychologist Jane Gregory tells how to defuse their power. This episode concerns mental health, and the discussion nudges some topics which may not be comfortable for everybody. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Jul 3, 2015 at 10:39 AM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 13. Mixed Emojions

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- and 5,000-year-old precedents for emoji. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Jul 3, 2015 at 10:36 AM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 12. Pride

“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 celebrations of LGBT rights and culture? There’s more about this … [more inside]
posted by jazon on Jun 3, 2015 at 12:06 PM - 2 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 11. Brunchtime

What does brunch have to do with Lewis Carroll? Fall down the rabbit hole of brunch semantics with Dan Pashman of the Sporkful podcast. [more inside]
posted by jazon on May 21, 2015 at 4:57 PM - 1 comment

Podcast: The Allusionist: 10. Election Lexicon

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. [more inside]
posted by jazon on May 7, 2015 at 6:44 AM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 9. The Space Between

Helen Zaltzman explores the spaces between the words, and why they are important to language. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Apr 23, 2015 at 9:03 AM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 8. Crosswords

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. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Apr 10, 2015 at 11:56 AM - 1 comment

Podcast: The Allusionist: 7. Mountweazel

You’d think you could trust dictionaries, but it turns out, they are riddled with LIES. Delivering this upsetting news is Eley Williams, who is just finishing up her PhD about mountweazels, esquivalience and other hoax words that lexicographers have snuck into dictionaries. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:53 PM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 6. The Writing On The Wall

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. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Mar 12, 2015 at 6:52 AM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 5. Latin Lives!

Every week since September 1989, a radio station in Finland has broadcast a weekly news bulletin…in Latin. WHY? Let’s find out! [more inside]
posted by jazon on Feb 25, 2015 at 1:01 PM - 2 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 4. Detonating the C-Bomb

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. Warning, swear words ahead! [more inside]
posted by jazon on Feb 12, 2015 at 7:08 AM - 7 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 3: Going Viral

Remember when ‘viral’ used to only mean something bad, IE something that would make you ill or destroy your computer? How things have changed. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Jan 28, 2015 at 3:34 PM - 0 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 2. Bosom holder

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’. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Jan 14, 2015 at 9:02 AM - 2 comments

Podcast: The Allusionist: 1. Ban The Pun

NEW PODCAST ALERT! 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. [more inside]
posted by jazon on Jan 14, 2015 at 8:58 AM - 2 comments