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The Allusionist

Helen Zaltzman for Radiotopia

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Linguistic adventures with Helen Zaltzman, TheAllusionist.org. A proud member of Radiotopia from PRX. Learn more at radiotopia.fm.
65. Eponyms III: Who’s That Guy?

20:11 | Oct 14th, 2017

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 epi...Show More
59. One To Another

18:27 | Jun 30th, 2017

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 ...Show More
Imaginary Advice: S.E.I.N.F.E.L.D.

26:59 | Jun 29th, 2018

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 Adv...Show More
78. Oot in the Open

23:26 | May 21st, 2018

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 t...Show More
68. Curse Soup

15:15 | Nov 25th, 2017

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 fing...Show More
64. Technobabble

22:26 | Sep 30th, 2017

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 relat...Show More
63. Evolution of Accents

24:02 | Sep 15th, 2017

“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 H...Show More
62. In Crypt, Decrypt

27:44 | Sep 2nd, 2017

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 ...Show More
55. Namaste

17:52 | May 5th, 2017

“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 ...Show More
54. The Authority

13:57 | Apr 14th, 2017

“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 expl...Show More
104. Words into Food

16:05 | Aug 17th

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...Show More
103. Food Into Words

24:11 | Aug 5th

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 flavo...Show More
102. New Rules

18:11 | Jul 14th

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 o...Show More
101. Two Or More

26:32 | Jun 26th

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 bump...Show More
56+12. Joins & Pride

27:40 | Jun 7th

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 avail...Show More
100. The Hundredth

29:51 | May 27th

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 ma...Show More
99. Polari

31:29 | May 12th

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 Pola...Show More
98. Alter Ego

28:56 | Apr 27th

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 ano...Show More
97. The Future is Now?

15:45 | Apr 11th

“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 Fo...Show More
96. Trust

18:49 | Mar 26th

“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 throughou...Show More
95. Verisimilitude

28:17 | Mar 11th

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 inve...Show More
94. Harsh Realm

27:23 | Feb 22nd

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...Show More
93. Gossip

18:17 | Feb 9th

‘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 realis...Show More
92. To Err Is Human

18:07 | Jan 24th

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....Show More
Extra special QUIZ!

13:59 | Dec 18th, 2018

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 ...Show More
91. Bonus 2018

16:06 | Dec 16th, 2018

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...Show More
90. Dear Santa

17:54 | Nov 30th, 2018

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 ab...Show More
89. WPM

16:01 | Nov 17th, 2018

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 Aus...Show More
88. Name Changers

27:23 | Nov 4th, 2018

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....Show More
87. Name v. Law

29:07 | Oct 22nd, 2018

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,...Show More
86. Name Therapy

26:42 | Oct 8th, 2018

“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 ...Show More
85. Skin Story

17:32 | Sep 23rd, 2018

“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 ...Show More
84. Trammels

19:49 | Sep 8th, 2018

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 y...Show More
83. Yes, As In

26:26 | Aug 26th, 2018

“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 s...Show More
82. A Novel Remedy

20:57 | Aug 13th, 2018

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 po...Show More
81. Shark Week

23:37 | Jul 28th, 2018

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 ...Show More
80. Warm Front

15:25 | Jun 17th, 2018

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 la...Show More
79. Queer

25:50 | Jun 3rd, 2018

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...Show More
42+43. Survival: The Key rerun

24:40 | May 5th, 2018

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 an...Show More
77. Survival part 1: Second Home

25:17 | Apr 21st, 2018

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 ...Show More
76. Across the Pond

23:01 | Apr 7th, 2018

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...Show More
75. Ear Hustling

15:15 | Mar 23rd, 2018

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 http://theallusioni...Show More
74. Take A Swear Pill

25:28 | Mar 9th, 2018

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 Mat...Show More
73. Supername!

18:52 | Feb 24th, 2018

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 formu...Show More
72. Hey

20:18 | Feb 9th, 2018

“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, ...Show More
71. Triumph/Trumpet/Top/Fart

18:03 | Jan 26th, 2018

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...Show More
70. Bonus 2017

20:22 | Dec 23rd, 2017

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 ...Show More
69. How the Dickens stole Christmas

27:19 | Dec 9th, 2017

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 ...Show More
67. Open Me part II

25:43 | Nov 10th, 2017

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 ...Show More
66. Open Me part I

19:31 | Oct 27th, 2017

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 Radioto...Show More
61. In Your Hand

13:10 | Aug 19th, 2017

“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 pr...Show More
60. Zillions

18:30 | Aug 5th, 2017

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’...Show More
58. Eclipse

23:03 | Jun 16th, 2017

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 bloo...Show More
57. AD/BC

16:03 | Jun 2nd, 2017

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 o...Show More
56. Joins

17:06 | May 19th, 2017

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 an...Show More
53. The Away Team

16:18 | Apr 1st, 2017

“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...Show More
14 rerun: Behave

14:06 | Mar 17th, 2017

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 mate...Show More
52. Sanctuary

16:32 | Mar 7th, 2017

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 long...Show More
51. Under the Covers – part II

01:55 | Feb 21st, 2017

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 Radioto...Show More
50. Under the Covers – part I

17:14 | Feb 8th, 2017

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; an...Show More
49. Bonus 2016

17:18 | Dec 30th, 2016

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 editio...Show More
48. Winterval

12:42 | Dec 6th, 2016

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 ...Show More
47. The Year Without a Summer

20:56 | Nov 21st, 2016

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 exc...Show More
46. The State Of It

19:21 | Nov 4th, 2016

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 wha...Show More
45. Eponyms II: Name That Disease

18:03 | Oct 16th, 2016

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 honou...Show More
44: This Is Your Brain On Language

12:53 | Oct 3rd, 2016

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 http://faceb...Show More
43. The Key part II: Vestiges

12:33 | Sep 20th, 2016

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 ...Show More
42. The Key part I: Rosetta

14:25 | Sep 7th, 2016

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...Show More
41. Getting Toasty

16:59 | Aug 21st, 2016

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 fin...Show More
40. Olympics

08:52 | Aug 5th, 2016

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 ab...Show More
39. Generation What?

15:00 | Jul 13th, 2016

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 ...Show More
38. Small Talk

12:52 | Jun 25th, 2016

“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...Show More
12 rerun: Pride

13:27 | Jun 14th, 2016

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 a...Show More
37. Brand It

19:24 | May 29th, 2016

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 nam...Show More
36. Big Lit

14:33 | May 17th, 2016

‘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 ne...Show More
35. Word of the Day

13:08 | May 1st, 2016

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 http:/...Show More
34. Continental

13:32 | Apr 17th, 2016

‘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 ab...Show More
33. Please

14:50 | Apr 1st, 2016

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...Show More
32. Soho

12:17 | Mar 18th, 2016

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 hotch...Show More
31. Post-Love

16:51 | Mar 5th, 2016

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 t...Show More
30. US Election Lexicon

17:12 | Feb 17th, 2016

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 – http://theallusionist.com/...Show More
29. WLTM part II

19:55 | Feb 6th, 2016

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 fu...Show More
28. WLTM part I

19:33 | Jan 28th, 2016

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 th...Show More
27. Bonus 2015

15:00 | Dec 23rd, 2015

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! Wa...Show More
26. Xmas Man

13:26 | Dec 2nd, 2015

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 perm...Show More
25. Toki Pona

17:44 | Nov 19th, 2015

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, ...Show More
24. Spill Your Guts

17:20 | Nov 4th, 2015

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, documen...Show More
23. Criminallusionist

21:32 | Oct 29th, 2015

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...Show More
22. Vocables

10:47 | Oct 21st, 2015

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 http://theallusionist.o...Show More
21. Eponyms I: The Ballad of Bic and Biro

17:34 | Oct 14th, 2015

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, ac...Show More
20. Baby Talk

09:52 | Oct 7th, 2015

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 http://tw...Show More
19. Architecting About Dance

12:56 | Sep 24th, 2015

“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 ...Show More
18. Fix part II

13:05 | Sep 9th, 2015

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 ...Show More
17. Fix part I

17:29 | Aug 28th, 2015

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, li...Show More
16. Word Play

13:15 | Aug 12th, 2015

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-wor...Show More
15. Step Away

18:01 | Jul 29th, 2015

‘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 descri...Show More
14. Behave

13:33 | Jul 1st, 2015

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...Show More
13. Mixed Emojions

15:38 | Jun 17th, 2015

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...Show More
12. Pride

13:14 | Jun 3rd, 2015

“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...Show More
11. Brunchtime

11:29 | May 20th, 2015

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, a...Show More
10. Election Lexicon

07:59 | May 6th, 2015

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 http://theallusi...Show More
9. The Space Between

09:28 | Apr 22nd, 2015

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...Show More
8. Crosswords

15:35 | Apr 8th, 2015

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 th...Show More
7. Mountweazel

14:29 | Mar 25th, 2015

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...Show More
6. The Writing On The Wall

14:18 | Mar 11th, 2015

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 con...Show More
5. Latin Lives!

11:19 | Feb 25th, 2015

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 facebook.com/al...Show More
4. Detonating the C-Bomb

16:16 | Feb 11th, 2015

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 ht...Show More
3. Going Viral

14:28 | Jan 28th, 2015

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 http://thea...Show More
2. Bosom Holder

13:00 | Jan 14th, 2015

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...Show More
1. Ban The Pun.

15:23 | Jan 14th, 2015

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...Show More