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The Allusionist
The Allusionist
Helen Zaltzman

Adventures in language with Helen Zaltzman. TheAllusionist.org

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189. Mouthful of Fortune

At Lunar New Year, certain foods are particularly lucky to eat. Why? Because in Chinese, their names are puns on... more

10 Feb 2024 · 25 minutes
188. Lipread

Lipreading has been in the news this month, thanks to gossip-stoking mouth movements at the Golden Globes that the amateur... more

28 Jan 2024 · 42 minutes
187. Bonus 2023

It's our annual end of year parade of all the extra good stuff this year's podguests talked about, including a... more

24 Dec 2023 · 1 hour, 2 minutes
186. Ravels

We’ve got knitting! We’ve got eponyms!! We’ve got knitting eponyms!!! Which come with a whole load of battles, f-boys, duels,... more

12 Dec 2023 · 33 minutes
185. Gems and Patties

We’re returning to the theme of renaming, for two food-related renamings: the first one that mostly happened, the second that... more

20 Nov 2023 · 37 minutes
184. Misophonia

The word 'misophonia' describes a condition that statistically, 20 per cent of you have: an extreme reaction to certain sounds.... more

06 Nov 2023 · 52 minutes
Apple Fest!

All aboard, we're off to the 2023 Apple Festival at the University of British Columbia, to taste some apples and,... more

22 Oct 2023 · 41 minutes
183. Timucua

When Spanish missionaries arrived in what is now called Florida, there were 100,000-200,000 Timucua people in the region. Just two... more

09 Oct 2023 · 35 minutes
182. Siblings of Chaos

Lexicographer, author and Dictionary Corner resident Susie Dent has been studying words to make us feel happy. She brings etymologies... more

24 Sep 2023 · 36 minutes
181. Cairns

There's an abiding myth that the landmark dictionaries are the work of one man, in a dusty paper-filled garrett tirelessly... more

13 Sep 2023 · 38 minutes
180. Project ENABLE

Sterling Martin was in grad school, studying C. elegans worms, when COVID19 hit and suddenly he found himself in lexicography,... more

25 Aug 2023 · 28 minutes
179. Andy Quiz

It's the annual etymology quizlusionist! I’m on a family holiday for the first time since 1988, so enlisted my brother... more

12 Aug 2023 · 33 minutes
178. Uranus

Have you ever wondered why the planets in our solar system are all named after Roman deities, except two of... more

24 Jun 2023 · 27 minutes
Tranquillusionist: Gay Animals

This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, say a load of words which aren’t really about anything, so... more

09 Jun 2023 · 26 minutes
177. Fat part 2

“The starting point is, and the research questions are all framed by: 'We know it's terrible to be fat, but... more

25 May 2023 · 47 minutes
176. Fat part 1

It should just be an accurate descriptor of my body, but the word 'fat' has shaped so much more of... more

12 May 2023 · 29 minutes
175. Eurovision part 2

Oh, you thought the Eurovision Song Contest was about songs? Or a fun international TV event that brings people together... more

21 Apr 2023 · 33 minutes
174. Eurovision part 1

There aren't many multilingual, multinational television shows that have been running for nearly seven decades. But what makes the Eurovision... more

07 Apr 2023 · 32 minutes
173. Death

"You can't redead the dead by you saying something shit," says Cariad Lloyd of Griefcast and author of You Are... more

24 Mar 2023 · 47 minutes
172. A Brief History of Brazilian Portuguese

"The myths, or the received wisdom, about Portuguese language in Brazil is that, of course we know we speak a... more

10 Mar 2023 · 40 minutes
171. Supplantation

Last episode, I mentioned that in London, Ontario, in 2019 a 9-year-old named Lyla Wheeler had launched a petition to... more

24 Feb 2023 · 29 minutes
170. Actively Passive

Over the past few years, numerous products and places with the word 'plantation' in their names have rebranded. As for... more

10 Feb 2023 · 26 minutes
169. The Box

Erwin Schrödinger is one of the "fathers of quantum mechanics". He also sexually abused children. Trinity College Dublin recently denamed... more

27 Jan 2023 · 37 minutes
168. Debuts

There’s been a recurring theme on the show over the years, of filling gaps in language, removing stigma and bias,... more

13 Jan 2023 · 32 minutes
167. Bonus 2022

What do the hippocampus, homophones, Little Women, worrying and egg hacks have in common? They all star in the 2022... more

17 Dec 2022 · 36 minutes
166. Fiona part 2

“I don't think that anyone should come away from this conversation not wanting to use the name Fiona. I think... more

05 Dec 2022 · 30 minutes
165. Fiona part 1

A lot of people assume that Fiona is a very old Scottish name, but the first known Scottish Fiona is... more

22 Nov 2022 · 38 minutes
164. Emergency

When is a war not a war? When the British Empire called it an 'emergency' so they didn't have to... more

07 Nov 2022 · 39 minutes
163. Rhino Borked Guy

Provoked by current events, we've got three political eponyms for turmoiled times. Get ready for explosives, presidential pigs, Supreme Court... more

21 Oct 2022 · 31 minutes
162. Self-Help

Self-help is a multibillion dollar genre of books, and Kristen Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg of By the Book podcast have... more

08 Oct 2022 · 34 minutes
161. Sentiment

Empathy and kindness can be noble concepts in themselves, but as terms are thrown around enough to have become buzzwords,... more

24 Sep 2022 · 37 minutes
160. Coward

“Anxiety is the parrot sidekick that rides on my shoulder and occasionally squawks warnings in my ear,” says Tim Clare,... more

09 Sep 2022 · 30 minutes
159. Bufflusionist

Grab your stake and crucifix pendant, we're going vampire-hunting! Well, vampire-etymology-hunting. The podcast Buffering the Vampire Slayer, which recaps the... more

20 Aug 2022 · 36 minutes
158. Creature Quiz

There's lots of fun etymology of creatures and a lot of fun etymology derived from creatures, and now it is... more

05 Aug 2022 · 20 minutes
Tranquillusionist: Australia's Big Things

This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, say a load of deliberately boring words to distract your interior... more

19 Jul 2022 · 30 minutes
157. Queerbaiting

The term 'queerbaiting' has evolved from meaning entrapment to marketing ploy to drawing "queer audiences into a piece of media... more

25 Jun 2022 · 24 minutes
156. Rainbow Washing

From whitewash (the paint) we got whitewashing (the covering up of misdeeds) and from there greenwashing, redwashing, bluewashing, purplewashing, pinkwashing... more

11 Jun 2022 · 22 minutes
155. The Tiffany Problem

The name Tiffany has been around for some 800 years. But you can't name a character in a historical novel... more

27 May 2022 · 16 minutes
154. Objectivity

Couple of easy straightforward questions for us to chew on: 1. What is ‘objectivity’ supposed to mean? And 2. does... more

14 May 2022 · 28 minutes
153. In Character

Chinese is one of the oldest still-spoken languages in the world. But when technologies arrived like telegraphy and computing, designed... more

18 Apr 2022 · 34 minutes
152. Asperger

Hans Asperger would have been merely "a footnote in the history of autism", so why did he get to be... more

03 Apr 2022 · 35 minutes
152. Asperger - music-free version

Hans Asperger would have been merely "a footnote in the history of autism", so why did he get to be... more

03 Apr 2022 · 34 minutes
151. The Bee's Knees

Bad hats, cat's pyjamas, banting, goops, creatures, and playing possum - what WERE people going on about during the Golden... more

18 Mar 2022 · 27 minutes
150. The Egg's Warning

"Warning: read and keep," says the piece of paper inside Kinder Surprise Eggs, in 34 languages; yet most people do... more

05 Mar 2022 · 28 minutes
149. Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD is different to PTSD, but there's not that much understanding of it as its own condition - which... more

19 Feb 2022 · 24 minutes
148. Bonus 2021

I've been saving them up all year, and now it's time for the annual selection box of Bonus Bits! Things... more

23 Dec 2021 · 21 minutes
147. Survival: Today, Tomorrow part 2

"It's really good if we can get the changes through here - that can be an inspiration for other other... more

07 Dec 2021 · 24 minutes
146. Survival: Today, Tomorrow part 1

The Icelandic language has remained so stable over the centuries, speakers can read manuscripts from 900 years ago without too... more

24 Nov 2021 · 29 minutes
145. Parents

When you're trans and pregnant, some of the vocabulary of pregnancy, birth and parenting might not fit you. In fact,... more

07 Nov 2021 · 41 minutes
144. Aro Ace

The word 'asexual' has been used by humans describing themselves for several decades; 'aromantic' is newer. Both words enable people... more

26 Oct 2021 · 23 minutes
143. Hedge Rider

Today it's the etymologies you requested! And a few you didn't! We've got witches, wizards, warlocks; conjurers and cloves; wood... more

13 Oct 2021 · 22 minutes
142. Zero

Did any number cause as much trouble as zero? It stranded ships; it scrambles the brains of mathematicians, calendar users... more

25 Sep 2021 · 20 minutes
141. Food Quiz

Quiz time! Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway of Home Cooking podcast join to deliver questions about food etymology, as well... more

10 Sep 2021 · 27 minutes
140. Num8er5

We use verbal numbers and we use numerals - why do we need both? Why do we have the ones... more

30 Aug 2021 · 29 minutes
Tranquillusionist: 282 Salads

This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, read all the salads from the 1950 recipe book 282 Ways... more

14 Aug 2021 · 31 minutes
139 Ladybird Ladybug

They're not ladies and they're not birds; they're not even technically bugs! But that's not the most surprising thing about... more

12 Jul 2021 · 18 minutes
138. Mind My Mind

Crazy, insane, nuts, mad, bonkers, psycho, schizo, OCD - casual vocabulary is strewn with mental health terms, but perhaps shouldn't... more

27 Jun 2021 · 27 minutes
137. Dude

Exclamation; sign of agreement OR disapproval; gendered, but circumstantially gender-neutral; term of endearment: 'dude' can do it all! But its... more

10 Jun 2021 · 23 minutes
136. Misogynoir

“It's hard to address something if you can't actually name what it is,” says Moya Bailey, who coined a term... more

28 May 2021 · 22 minutes
135. SOS

SOS is a really versatile distress call. You can shout it; you can tap it out in Morse code; you... more

14 May 2021 · 20 minutes

It’s August 2007. Lauren Marks is a 27-year-old actor and a PhD student, spending the month directing a play at... more

23 Apr 2021 · 26 minutes
134. Lacuna

If you were in Brazil during the military dictatorship of 1964-1985, tried to bake a cake from a recipe in... more

10 Apr 2021 · 28 minutes
133. Cake is Mighter than the Sword

What to do to stick it to the powers that be? Send your message through something they really care about:... more

27 Mar 2021 · 18 minutes
132. Additions and Losses

"Sometimes I've heard people talk about losing a child and people say it's like losing a limb. And as someone... more

12 Mar 2021 · 28 minutes
131. Podlingual

In their podcasts Mija and Moonface, Lory Martinez and James Kim create autobiographical fiction in multiple languages.  There are a few... more

25 Feb 2021 · 29 minutes
130. Valentine

St Valentine's name may nowadays be all over the romance-related merch for 14 February, but he was also the patron... more

14 Feb 2021 · 15 minutes
129. Sorry

Apologies are such important verbal transactions. So why are so many of them soooo bad? Susan McCarthy and Marjorie Ingall... more

31 Jan 2021 · 32 minutes
128. Bonus 2020

Some choice cuts from the Allusionist vault of interesting things that guests said that there wasn’t room for in the... more

24 Dec 2020 · 31 minutes
127. A Festive Hit for 2020

The usual canon of Christmas songs may not really fit people's moods in this year 2020, when I'm not sure... more

14 Dec 2020 · 30 minutes
126. Survival: Custodians of the Languages

In Australia, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of languages. Until English arrived.

28 Nov 2020 · 29 minutes
125. Swearalong Quiz

Fill your lungs and get ready to shout out some profane answers: it’s the Swearlusionist Swearalong Quiz!

10 Nov 2020 · 13 minutes
124. Nightmare

This is the Alloooooooooosionist, in which we learn about the etymology of some scary words for Halloween, with the help... more

25 Oct 2020 · 19 minutes
123. Celebrity

Celebrity used to mean a solemn occasion; X factor was algebraic; and fame was a huge terrifying Godzilla-like beast with... more

10 Oct 2020 · 27 minutes
122. Ghostwriter

The word for ‘ghostwriter’ in French is a racist slur. How did THAT come about? And what can French-speakers say... more

28 Sep 2020 · 22 minutes
121. No Title

In 2014, a seemingly trivial and boring incident at the bank propelled me down a linguistic road via medieval werewolves,... more

14 Sep 2020 · 58 minutes
Tranquillusionist: Home and Garden

This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, quell anxiety and calm brain frenzies by replacing your interior monologue... more

28 Aug 2020 · 20 minutes
The Away Team redux

the language of migration

18 Aug 2020 · 20 minutes
120. Shine Theory

It’s great when you coin a phrase that really resonates with people, right? Until they start using it for businesses... more

30 Jul 2020 · 18 minutes
119. Blood Is Not Water

The Yiddish word for ‘black’ is, in certain uses, a slur. So Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell, Arun Viswanath and Jonah... more

14 Jul 2020 · 25 minutes
118. Survival: Bequest

When the Europeans arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as guns, stoats and Christianity, they brought ideas of cisgender... more

03 Jul 2020 · 28 minutes
117. Many Ways At Once

The Scots language didn’t have much of a lexicon of LGBTQ+ terminology. So writer and performer Dr Harry Josephine Giles... more

15 Jun 2020 · 17 minutes
116. My Dad Excavated A Porno

The word ‘pornography’ arrived in English in the 1840s so upper class male archaeologists could talk about the sexual art... more

03 Jun 2020 · 30 minutes
115. Keep Calm and

Twenty years ago, a 1939 poster printed by the British government with the words ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ turned... more

16 May 2020 · 20 minutes
Tranquillusionist: Punchlines

This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, read the punchlines to classic jokes.

13 Apr 2020 · 5 minutes
Tranquillusionist: Best In Show

This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, for the purposes of calming a frazzled brain, read the winners... more

04 Apr 2020 · 11 minutes
Tranquillusionist: Nmiigea

This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, for the purposes of quelling anxiety and stress and sleeplessness, read... more

22 Mar 2020 · 3 minutes
Tranquillusionist: Your Soothing Words

A relaxing list of the words you listeners find soothing

17 Mar 2020 · 10 minutes
114. Alarm Bells

The vocabulary around climate is fraught. Here's how to navigate it, and how to communicate about climate in a way... more

24 Feb 2020 · 29 minutes
113. Zaltzology

Ologies podcast host Alie Ward and I cover etymologies of words including ‘buxom’, ‘mediocre’, ‘coccyx’, ‘lacuna’, bust some etymological myths,... more

24 Jan 2020 · 27 minutes
112. Quiz 2019

For your last Allusionist of 2019, here is a quiz all about words for you to play along with as... more

24 Dec 2019 · 15 minutes
Allusionist special: Podcast Podcast

Here’s a special episode about the word that brought us all together… and a lot of you hate it.

16 Dec 2019 · 12 minutes
111. Engraving part 2: Precious

Words engraved into metal are intended to last, though you don’t know who in the future is going to be... more

16 Dec 2019 · 35 minutes
110. Engraving part 1: Epitaph

When Dave Nadelberg of Mortified used to visit his mother’s grave, he would look around at the nearby gravestones and... more

26 Nov 2019 · 27 minutes
109. East West

On 9 November 1989, the demolition of the Berlin Wall began. Within a year, Germany was unified. East Germany dissolved... more

14 Nov 2019 · 28 minutes
108. Enjoy!

In the last Food Season episode of the current batch, we get into the language of restaurant service - specifically... more

30 Oct 2019 · 23 minutes
107. Apples

Late 2019 will see the biggest apple launch of our lifetimes. 22 years in the making, ripening on millions of... more

09 Oct 2019 · 27 minutes
106. Typo Demom

Ever misspelled a word or committed a typo? It wasn’t your fault; you were demonically possessed. Ian Chillag from Everything... more

15 Sep 2019 · 20 minutes
105. F'ood

When is cheese not cheese, or crab not crab? When it’s spelled cheez or krab or even ch’eese or cra’b…... more

03 Sep 2019 · 31 minutes
104. Words into Food

When Kate Young spots a foodstuff or a feast in a novel, she finds ways to cook it in reality,... more

17 Aug 2019 · 16 minutes
103. Food Into Words

When recipe writing is done well, the skill and effort involved might not be evident. But explaining the different steps... more

05 Aug 2019 · 24 minutes
102. New Rules

I don’t know exactly when or where, but at some point in the past few years, I stopped putting punctuation... more

14 Jul 2019 · 18 minutes
101. Two Or More

Oysters, fragrances, canoeing, space stations, God, hats, and of course people - the word ‘bisexual’ has described a great deal... more

26 Jun 2019 · 26 minutes
56+12. Joins & Pride

To celebrate Pride Month, I’m playing two of the Allusionist episodes that have stuck with me the most during the... more

06 Jun 2019 · 27 minutes
100. The Hundredth

To mark the 100th episode of the Allusionist, here’s a celebratory parade of language-related facts

27 May 2019 · 29 minutes
99. Polari

When there were no safe spaces to be gay, Polari allowed gay men to identify and communicate with each other,... more

12 May 2019 · 31 minutes
98. Alter Ego

Today: three pieces about alter egos, when your name - the words by which the world knows you - is... more

27 Apr 2019 · 28 minutes
97. The Future is Now?

“There are two ways to say ‘The future is now’: you can say it optimistically, like, ‘The future is now!... more

11 Apr 2019 · 15 minutes
96. Trust

“Trust isn't a brand that you should use. It's a social glue that, when it breaks down, has really huge... more

26 Mar 2019 · 18 minutes
95. Verisimilitude

When you’re watching a fantasy or science fiction show, and the characters are speaking a language that does not exist... more

11 Mar 2019 · 28 minutes
94. Harsh Realm

On 15 November 1992, the New York Times printed a ‘Lexicon of Grunge’, a list of slang terms from the... more

22 Feb 2019 · 27 minutes
93. Gossip

‘Idle’, ‘trivial’, ‘scurrilous’: the word ‘gossip’ is often accompanied by uncomplimentary adjectives. But don’t dismiss it; gossip may be more... more

09 Feb 2019 · 18 minutes
92. To Err Is Human

If you wince when you hear someone say “a whole nother level”, “hone in on” or “right from the gecko”,... more

24 Jan 2019 · 18 minutes
Extra special QUIZ!

A wordy quiz for you to play along with as you listen. Get a pen and paper, or fill in... more

18 Dec 2018 · 13 minutes
91. Bonus 2018

Throughout the year, the people who appear on the Allusionist tell me a lot of interesting stuff. Not all of... more

16 Dec 2018 · 16 minutes
90. Dear Santa

Jim Glaub and Dylan Parker didn’t think too much of it when, every year, a few letters were delivered to... more

30 Nov 2018 · 17 minutes
89. WPM

This is a story of feats of speed and endurance, of record-breakers, of champions… Typing champions. Recorded live at the... more

17 Nov 2018 · 16 minutes
88. Name Changers

Why did you change your name? And why did you choose the name you chose? Listeners answer these two questions.... more

04 Nov 2018 · 27 minutes
87. Name v. Law

Iceland has quite exacting laws about what its citizens can be named, and only around 4,000 names are on the... more

22 Oct 2018 · 29 minutes
86. Name Therapy

“It’s the word that you use the most often and the soonest to describe yourself, and yet nobody’s really ever... more

08 Oct 2018 · 26 minutes
85. Skin Story

“I wanted a story that actually lives, and actually dies, and disappears.” In 2003, artist and author Shelley Jackson started... more

23 Sep 2018 · 17 minutes
84. Trammels

Why would you write books or poems or plays with only one vowel? Or in palindromes? Or only using the... more

08 Sep 2018 · 19 minutes
83. Yes, As In

“Really? As in the animal/foodstuff/music genre?” “Is that a stripper name?” “What were your parents thinking?” When your name is... more

26 Aug 2018 · 26 minutes
82. A Novel Remedy

When you’re feeling unwell, what’s the book you read to make yourself feel better? And why does it work? Clinical... more

13 Aug 2018 · 20 minutes
81. Shark Week

Today, we’re dipping into the Allusionist mailbag full of listeners’ linguistic requests, with the help of special guest Hrishikesh Hirway... more

28 Jul 2018 · 23 minutes
Imaginary Advice: S.E.I.N.F.E.L.D.

Hello! I’m currently in hospital so am having to take a little time off work. Therefore, instead of a new Allusionist... more

28 Jun 2018 · 26 minutes
80. Warm Front

Today will be fine. But wait: fine as in ‘OK’, fine as in ‘really rather good’, or fine as in... more

17 Jun 2018 · 15 minutes
79. Queer

Strange or obtuse; a stinging homophobic slur; a radical political rejection of normativity; a broad term encompassing every and any... more

03 Jun 2018 · 25 minutes
78. Oot in the Open

You are born and raised in a household speaking a language. Then you start going to school, and that language... more

21 May 2018 · 23 minutes
42+43. Survival: The Key rerun

To accompany the current Allusionist miniseries Survival, about minority languages facing suppression and extinction, we’re revisiting this double bill of... more

05 May 2018 · 24 minutes
77. Survival part 1: Second Home

There are two main places in the world where the Welsh language is spoken: Wales, and the Chubut Province in... more

21 Apr 2018 · 25 minutes
76. Across the Pond

Pavement/sidewalk; football/soccer; bum bag/fanny pack: we know that the English language is different in the UK and the USA. But... more

07 Apr 2018 · 22 minutes
75. Ear Hustling

Today we’re going inside to open up the unofficial dictionary of San Quentin state prison, compiled by Earlonne Woods of... more

23 Mar 2018 · 15 minutes
74. Take A Swear Pill

CONTENT WARNING: there is swearing in this episode. But the happy news is: swearing is good for you! Dr Emma... more

09 Mar 2018 · 25 minutes
73. Supername!

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... more

24 Feb 2018 · 18 minutes
72. Hey

“Hey.” “Going to the supermarket, want me to get you anything?” “Puppies or ice cream?” “What’s your glasses prescription?” “I... more

09 Feb 2018 · 20 minutes
71. Triumph/Trumpet/Top/Fart

It’s a year since Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. And in that year,... more

26 Jan 2018 · 18 minutes
70. Bonus 2017

It’s the annual bonus episode. Throughout the year, the people who appear on the show tell me a lot of... more

23 Dec 2017 · 20 minutes
69. How the Dickens stole Christmas

Charles Dickens wrote about the plight of the impoverished and destitute members of British society. So how come his name... more

09 Dec 2017 · 27 minutes
68. Curse Soup

Somebody has really ticked you off. You’re all steamed up inside and you want to vent that rage using words,... more

25 Nov 2017 · 15 minutes
67. Open Me part II

You’re holding a letter. What’s inside? A weather report from 5,000 miles away? Some devastating family history? A single word?... more

10 Nov 2017 · 25 minutes
66. Open Me part I

From Me To You’s Alison Hitchcock and Brian Greenley didn’t know each other well. But when Brian was diagnosed with... more

27 Oct 2017 · 19 minutes
65. Eponyms III: Who’s That Guy?

Roman Mars returns for our annual dose of eponyms – words that derive from people’s names. This year: explosive revelations... more

14 Oct 2017 · 20 minutes
64. Technobabble

You’ve encountered technobabble when Doc Brown is shouting about flux capacitors in Back To The Future, or when Isaac Asimov... more

30 Sep 2017 · 22 minutes
63. Evolution of Accents

“Accent is identity. It’s a way of encoding and signaling – almost completely at an unconscious level for most people... more

14 Sep 2017 · 24 minutes
62. In Crypt, Decrypt

Crossword-solving is often a solitary activity – over breakfast; on the train; on the loo… But a few times a... more

02 Sep 2017 · 27 minutes
61. In Your Hand

“It’s sort of frozen body language; that’s what handwriting analysis is about.” Since it caught on a couple of hundred... more

17 Aug 2017 · 13 minutes
60. Zillions

They look like numbers. They sound like numbers. You kinda know they are numbers. But they’re not actually numbers. Linguistic... more

05 Aug 2017 · 18 minutes
59. One To Another

Translation, A Love Story: Translator listens to The Allusionist. Translator hears about the podcast The Memory Palace. Translator listens to... more

30 Jun 2017 · 18 minutes
58. Eclipse

It’s August 2007. Lauren Marks is a 27-year-old actor and a PhD student, spending the month directing a play at... more

16 Jun 2017 · 22 minutes
57. AD/BC

There’s a small matter I trip over regularly in the Allusionist: Dates. Not the fruit. Specicially, the terms BC and... more

01 Jun 2017 · 16 minutes
56. Joins

As discussed in episode 51, Under the Covers part II, the vocabulary for sex and associated body parts is tricky... more

19 May 2017 · 17 minutes
55. Namaste

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Hrishikesh Hirway of Song... more

05 May 2017 · 17 minutes
54. The Authority

“Sometimes you want to make the dictionary sexy but it’s just not a sexy thing,” says Kory Stamper, lexicographer for... more

14 Apr 2017 · 13 minutes
53. The Away Team

“Recognizing someone’s humanity is crucial. Calling someone a migrant, calling someone an asylum seeker, calling them a refugee: these are... more

01 Apr 2017 · 16 minutes
14 rerun: Behave

Sometimes words can become your worst enemy. Clinical psychologist Jane Gregory tells how to defuse their power. There’s more about... more

17 Mar 2017 · 14 minutes
52. Sanctuary

The term ‘sanctuary cities’ has been in the news a lot in the past few weeks, as places in the... more

07 Mar 2017 · 16 minutes
51. Under the Covers – part II

Does the available vocabulary for sex leave something to be desired? Namely desire? (And also the ability to use it... more

21 Feb 2017 · 15 minutes
50. Under the Covers – part I

Escape into the loving embrace of a romance novel – although don’t think you’ll be able to escape gender politics... more

08 Feb 2017 · 17 minutes
49. Bonus 2016

Why is gaslighting ‘gaslighting’? What do bodily fluids have to do with personality traits? Why does ‘cataract’ mean a waterfall... more

30 Dec 2016 · 17 minutes
48. Winterval

There’s a word that has become shorthand for ‘the war on Christmas’ with a side of ‘political correctness gone mad’:... more

06 Dec 2016 · 12 minutes
47. The Year Without a Summer

Today: a tale of darkness, gathering storms, and a terrifying creature that resembles a human man… No, nothing topical: it’s... more

21 Nov 2016 · 20 minutes
46. The State Of It

Each of the 50 states in the USA has its own motto. The motto might be found on the state... more

04 Nov 2016 · 19 minutes
45. Eponyms II: Name That Disease

If you love eponyms like Roman Mars loves eponyms, I’m afraid physician Isaac Siemens is here to deliver some bad... more

16 Oct 2016 · 18 minutes
44: This Is Your Brain On Language

What is your beautiful brain up to as you comprehend language? Cognitive psychologist Jenni Rodd takes a peek. Visit http://theallusionist.org/brain... more

03 Oct 2016 · 12 minutes
43. The Key part II: Vestiges

If you don’t have a Rosetta Stone to hand, deciphering extinct languages can be a real puzzle, even though they... more

20 Sep 2016 · 12 minutes
42. The Key part I: Rosetta

Languages die. But if they’re lucky, a thousand-odd years later, someone unearths an artefact that brings them back to life.... more

07 Sep 2016 · 14 minutes
41. Getting Toasty

When you choose to spend the winter in Antarctica, you’ll be prepared for it to be cold. You know that... more

21 Aug 2016 · 17 minutes
40. Olympics

On your marks… Get set… GO! It’s the Etymolympics, where the gymnastics should be gymnaked and the hurdles are a... more

04 Aug 2016 · 8 minutes
39. Generation What?

Which are you: Millennial, Generation X, Baby Boomer, Silent Generation, an impressively young-looking Arthurian Generation? Or are you an individual... more

13 Jul 2016 · 15 minutes
38. Small Talk

“How are you?” “Oh, fine – and you?” “Yeah, not bad. Nice day today, isn’t it?” “Yes, it was a... more

25 Jun 2016 · 12 minutes
12 rerun: Pride

This week seems like a good one to listen again to last year’s episode Pride, about how the word came... more

13 Jun 2016 · 13 minutes
37. Brand It

Got a company or a product or a website you need to name? Well, be wary of the potential pitfalls:... more

29 May 2016 · 19 minutes
36. Big Lit

‘Classics’ started off meaning Latin and Greek works, then works that smacked of similar, and now – what, exactly? Books... more

17 May 2016 · 14 minutes
35. Word of the Day

Open up a dictionary, and you’ll find the history of human behaviour, the key to your own psychological state, and... more

01 May 2016 · 13 minutes
34. Continental

‘Continent’, as in a land mass, is much more complicated semantically than the bodily function control sense of ‘continent’. Plus:... more

17 Apr 2016 · 13 minutes
33. Please

There’s an ocean between Britain and the USA, but an even wider division between each country’s use of a particular... more

01 Apr 2016 · 14 minutes
32. Soho

Around the world, there are several places called Soho, getting their names from an acronym/portmanteau-ish composite of local streets or... more

18 Mar 2016 · 12 minutes
31. Post-Love

Breaking up is hard to do, and it’s hard to put into appropriate words. Comedian Rosie Wilby seeks a better... more

05 Mar 2016 · 16 minutes
30. US Election Lexicon

The 2016 US election isn’t going away anytime soon, so let’s seek refuge in etymology. Consider the linguistically appropriate age... more

17 Feb 2016 · 17 minutes
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... more

06 Feb 2016 · 19 minutes
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... more

28 Jan 2016 · 19 minutes
27. Bonus 2015

For the last episode of 2015, here’s a melange of etymologies requested by listeners, and anecdotes there wasn’t room for... more

23 Dec 2015 · 15 minutes
26. Xmas Man

CONTENT WARNING: Be wary of listening to this episode around young children, as there may be life spoilers. Historian Greg... more

02 Dec 2015 · 13 minutes
25. Toki Pona

There’s a language which is said to be the smallest language in the world. It has around 123 words, five... more

19 Nov 2015 · 17 minutes
24. Spill Your Guts

It’s cathartic; it’s a useful historical record; and it might help you behave better on public transport. Neil Katcher and... more

04 Nov 2015 · 17 minutes
23. Criminallusionist

Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer from the podcast Criminal stop by to talk about the linguistic challenges of crime reporting.... more

29 Oct 2015 · 21 minutes
22. Vocables

La la la, dum di di dum, a wop bop a loo bop a wop bom bom – why are... more

21 Oct 2015 · 10 minutes
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?... more

14 Oct 2015 · 17 minutes
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.... more

07 Oct 2015 · 9 minutes
19. Architecting About Dance

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture” is a problematic statement: not just because nobody can agree on who... more

24 Sep 2015 · 12 minutes
18. Fix part II

The messiness of English is the price of its success. It is the most widely spoken language in the world,... more

09 Sep 2015 · 13 minutes
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... more

28 Aug 2015 · 17 minutes
16. Word Play

Words are all over the place. So how do you turn them into fun games? Here to show the way... more

12 Aug 2015 · 13 minutes
15. Step Away

‘Step-‘, as in stepparents or stepchildren, originated in grief. Family structures have evolved, but are stepmothers now so tainted by... more

29 Jul 2015 · 18 minutes
14. Behave

Sometimes words can become your worst enemy. Clinical psychologist Jane Gregory tells how to defuse their power. There’s more about... more

30 Jun 2015 · 13 minutes
13. Mixed Emojions

Emoji allow communication without words. Could emoji be the universal language of the 21st century? Matt Gray and Tom Scott,... more

17 Jun 2015 · 15 minutes
12. Pride

“The poison is shame. The antidote is pride.” It’s June; the President of the USA has officially designated it LGBT... more

03 Jun 2015 · 13 minutes
11. Brunchtime

What does brunch have to do with Lewis Carroll? Fall down the rabbit hole of brunch semantics with Dan Pashman... more

20 May 2015 · 11 minutes
10. Election Lexicon

On the eve of the 2015 General Election in the UK, take a jaunt through the etymology of election-related words.... more

05 May 2015 · 7 minutes
9. The Space Between

I know this is a show about words, but forget the words for a moment; look at the spaces between... more

22 Apr 2015 · 9 minutes
8. Crosswords

Cryptic crosswords: delightful brain exercise, or the infernal taunting of the incomprehensible? Either way, crossword setter John Feetenby explains how... more

08 Apr 2015 · 15 minutes
7. Mountweazel

You’d think you could trust dictionaries, but it turns out, they are riddled with LIES. Visit theallusionist.org/mountweazel to find out... more

25 Mar 2015 · 14 minutes
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... more

11 Mar 2015 · 14 minutes
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... more

25 Feb 2015 · 11 minutes
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... more

11 Feb 2015 · 16 minutes
3. Going Viral

Remember when ‘viral’ used to only mean something bad, IE something that would make you ill or destroy your computer?... more

28 Jan 2015 · 14 minutes
2. Bosom Holder

There are many synonyms for ‘underwear’. There are many synonyms for the body parts you keep in your underwear. But... more

15 Jan 2015 · 12 minutes
1. Ban The Pun.

In late 2014, China announced it was to ban puns. Helen Zaltzman wishes she could ban puns in her own... more

14 Jan 2015 · 15 minutes
The Allusionist
1. Ban The Pun.
The Allusionist

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In late 2014, China announced it was to ban puns. Helen Zaltzman wishes she could ban puns in her own family. Warning:... more