137. Dude
Exclamation; sign of agreement OR disapproval; gendered, but circumstantially gender-neutral; term of endearment: 'dude' can do it all! But its connotations of a laid-back, cool, masculine person are only a few decades old; before that, it meant...an uptight city-dwelling tourist?? Dude, seriously! There's more about this episode, and a transcript, at theallusionist.org/dude. Callie Wright's podcast is Queersplaining, which you can find in the kinds of places you obtain this podcast, and at queersplainin...

words language linguistics education comedy entertainment society&culture arts literature etymology lexicon vocabulary HelenZaltzman CallieWright Queersplaining dude YankeeDoodle macaronis history slang termsofendearment insults USA DavidBowie songs lyrics movies films EasyRider FastTimesatRidgemontHigh genderneutral nonbinary gender guys Pacheco zootsuit MexicanAmericans AfricanAmericans AAVE surfing saros

136. Misogynoir
“It's hard to address something if you can't actually name what it is,” says Moya Bailey, who coined a term that enables people to discuss a specific combination of racism and sexism: misogynoir. Find Moya Bailey's work at moyabailey.com. Her new book is Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women's Digital Resistance.  There's more about this episode, and a transcript, at theallusionist.org/misogynoir. The music is by Martin Austwick. Hear Martin’s own songs at palebirdmusic.com or search for Pale Bird on...

words language linguistics education comedy entertainment society&culture arts literature etymology lexicon vocabulary MoyaBailey misogynoir misogyny racism race Blackwomen portmanteau neologisms DianeAbbott AlexandraWilson MeghanMarkle systemicbias inequality healthcare doctors medical Flexner discrimination exuviae HelenZaltzman

135. SOS
SOS is a really versatile distress call. You can shout it; you can tap it out in Morse code; you can honk it on a horn; you can signal it with flashes of light; you can spell it out on the beach with debris from your wrecked ship. Explaining where SOS came from and what it means are maritime archivist Christian Ostersehlte from the German Maritime Museum, and Paul Tyreman from PK Porthcurno, the Museum of Global Telecommunications. Find more information about the topics in this episode at theallusioni...

ChristianOstersehlte PaulTyreman SOS CQD CQ mayday codes calls distress emergency ships shipping maritime boats vessels seatravel sea sailors signals communication telegraphy radio wireless technology history Titanic acronyms backronyms falseetymology Germany UK Britain Italy Marconi flags SamuelMorse Morsecode words language linguistics education comedy entertainment society&culture arts literature etymology lexicon vocabulary HelenZaltzman


Allusionist: Eclipse+
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 vessel in her brain bursts. When she wakes up in hospital, days later, she has no internal monologue, and a vocabulary of only about forty words.  This is a rerun of an all time fave Allusionist, but with a few extra little bits added. Content note: this ep...

language words vocabulary LaurenMarks brain brains neurology aneurysm stroke aphasia dysphasia innervoice interiormonologue speechtherapy medical head surgery disability silence

134. Lacuna
If you were in Brazil during the military dictatorship of 1964-1985, tried to bake a cake from a recipe in the newspaper, and were served with a sorry mess that tasted disgustingly salty, it wasn't your fault. What you thought was a recipe was actually a message from the newspaper that they were being censored.  Designer and researcher Crystian Cruz opens up the TOP SECRET files, to share the fake weather reports, single nipples vs a pair, soap opera characters getting bumped off, and the problems with k...

words censorship protest Brazil

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: cake. In Buenos Aires, local tour guides Madi Lang and Juan Palacios introduce me to priest's balls and little cannons, the pastries laced with the sweet taste of 1880s trade union protests. There are a few swears and saucy references in this episode. Find more information about the topics in this episode at theallusionist.org/cake-sword.  The music is by Martin Austwick. Hear Martin’s own s...

words language linguistics education comedy entertainment society&culture arts literature etymology lexicon vocabulary Argentina BuenosAires 19thcentury history politics cake pastries pastry treats anarchy protest unions strikes industrialaction grahamcrackers SylvesterGraham ShirleyTemple eponyms pineapples food drink freedomfries frenchfries dachshunds sauerkraut WorldWarOne FirstWorldWar IraqWar USA UK France French Paris law facturas cuecavirada ganache fedora Taiwan ArnoldPalmer JohnDaly BobNey WalterBJones EttoreMattei ErricoMalatesta PaulSiraudin VictorienSardou playwrights confectionary police cops lawenforcement vigilante cañoncitas libritos bolasdefraile priest’sballs borborygmus HelenZaltzman


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 who's lost both things, I just want to say, the realities are very different." Musician and writer Christa Couture has experienced way too much of people trying to convey sympathy and instead expressing their discomfort about disability and death.  Content note: we talk about ableism, cancer and bereavement. Part of the conversation is about the deaths of two of Christa's babies, so stop listenin...

words language linguistics education comedy entertainment society&culture arts literature etymology lexicon vocabulary ChristaCouture disability disabled personfirst identityfirst grief death children cancer amputation platitudes bereavement bodies parenthood handicap prosthesis prosthetic HelenZaltzman

131. Podlingual
In their podcasts Mija and Moonface, Lory Martinez and James Kim create autobiographical fiction in multiple languages.  There are a few swears in this episode. Find out more about this episode at theallusionist.org/podlingual and hear the whole conversation, and the others in the series, on Scripps College's podcast feed.  The music is by Martin Austwick. Hear Martin’s own songs at palebirdmusic.com or search for Pale Bird on Bandcamp and Spotify, and he’s @martinaustwick on Twitter and Instagram....

HelenZaltzman words language linguistics education comedy entertainment society&culture arts literature etymology lexicon vocabulary JamesKim Moonface LoryMartinez Mija OchentaStudios podcasting podcasts fiction drama immigration multilingual bilingual multiculture English French Spanish Korean Mandarin

130. Valentine
St Valentine's name may nowadays be all over the romance-related merch for 14 February, but he was also the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy and plagues. Let's get to know this multi-hyphenate saint a bit better. Find out more about topics covered in this episode at theallusionist.org/valentine. All the information in this episode is real, even though it sounds like it's not. The music is by Martin Austwick. Hear Martin’s own songs at palebirdmusic.com or search for Pale Bird on Bandcamp and Spoti...

words language linguistics education comedy entertainment society&culture arts literature etymology lexicon vocabulary StValentine Valentine'sDay HelenZaltzman


129. Sorry
Apologies are such important verbal transactions. So why are so many of them soooo bad? Susan McCarthy and Marjorie Ingall from SorryWatch and Laura Beaudin of fauxpolo.gy pinpoint what to look out for, to sort the apologies from the fauxpologies. There’s more about this episode at theallusionist.org/sorry. The music is by Martin Austwick. Hear Martin’s own songs at palebirdmusic.com or search for Pale Bird on Bandcamp and Spotify, and he’s @martinaustwick on Twitter and Instagram.  The Allusionist...

128. Bonus 2020
To round off the year, here are some choice cuts from the Allusionist vault of interesting things that guests said that there wasn’t room for in the original episodes. Brace yourself for a vivid name for dust bunnies, the scary side of glamour, another reason to be grateful for bears, and Schrödinger’s Fart. There’s more about this episode at theallusionist.org/bonus2020. The show will be back with new episodes in late January 2021. The Allusionist's online home is theallusionist.org. Support the show...

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 a lot of us are feeling all that holly jolly. So I drafted in singer and songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs and we wrote a festive song that is suitable for 2020. Content note: there are swears. Several of them. Jenny Owen Youngs makes music - find it at jennyowenyoungs.com - and podcasts - Buffering the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars Investigations. She’s @jennyowenyoungs on Twitter and Instagram. ...


126. Survival: Custodians of the Languages
In Australia, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of languages. Until English arrived. Rudi Bremer and Karina Lester talk about the destruction and revival of indigenous Australian languages. Content note: this episode refers to violence and genocide. Find more information about the topics in this episode at theallusionist.org/custodians, and listen to the other episodes in the Survival series: Second Home about Welsh in Patagonia; Oot in the Open, about the suppression and revival of Scots; an...

125. Swearalong Quiz
Fill your lungs and get ready to shout out some profane answers: it’s the Swearlusionist Swearalong Quiz! Every answer is a swear word. Swearing, as we know, is good for your health, plus helps vent stress, and you’ll learn many etymological facts along the way, so this is a very wholesome and educational quiz. CONTENT NOTE: this episode contains swears. Surprise! Find more information about the topics in this episode at theallusionist.org/swearalong. The Allusionist music is by Martin Austwick. He...

124. Nightmare
This is the Alloooooooooosionist, in which we learn about the etymology of some scary words for Halloween, with the help of Paul Bae of The Black Tapes and The Big Loop podcasts, and Chelsey Weber-Smith of the podcast American Hysteria. Beware of demons! Satan! The bogeyman! Lemurs! Wait - lemurs?? Find more information about these topics and guests at theallusionist.org/nightmare. The Allusionist music is by Martin Austwick. Hear Martin’s songs at palebirdmusic.com or on Spotify, and he’s @martina...


123. Celebrity
Celebrity used to mean a solemn occasion; X factor was algebraic; and fame was a huge terrifying Godzilla-like beast with many many tongues. Here to try define celebrity and fame are historian Greg Jenner of the podcast You’re Dead To Me, Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger of Who? Weekly podcast, and writer, podcaster and videomaker Hank Green. Find more information about these topics and guests at theallusionist.org/celebrity. The Allusionist music is by Martin Austwick. Hear Martin’s songs at palebir...

122. Ghostwriter
The word for ‘ghostwriter’ in French is a racist slur. How did THAT come about? And what word could French-speakers use instead? Ngofeen Mputubwele and Gregory Warner investigate. This piece originally aired on NPR’s Rough Translation; hear their new season at npr.org and on your pod app. Content note: the piece is about, and therefore contains, offensive terms. And towards the end of the episode, in the Minillusionist, I get into the racist violent etymology of the word ‘bulldozer’. Find more informa...

121. No Title
In 2014, a seemingly trivial and boring incident at the bank propelled me down a linguistic road via medieval werewolves, Ms Marvel and confusingly inscribed gravestones, to find out why the English language is riddled with all this gender. What’s it FOR? How did it GET there? Will it go AWAY now please? It is, at the very least, taking up brainspace and not paying any rent. This is a recording of a live performance at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room in St Louis, Missouri on 23 November 2019, and there were...


Tranquillusionist: Home and Garden
This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, quell anxiety and calm brain frenzies by replacing your interior monologue with words detached from significance. In this case: the list of HGTV original programming, and lawnmower adverts from before I was born. Find this episode and a transcript and some pics of lawnmower ads at theallusionist.org/homeandgarden, and all the Allusionist episodes - other Tranquillusionists and also ones that are actually about something - at theallusionist.org. ...

The Away Team redux
After yet another spell of the British press and politicians using very dehumanising and derogatory rhetoric about migrants, I felt it necessary to go back to the Away Team episode of the Allusionist, about the language of migration, with lecturer and researcher Emma Briant, and author and editor Nikesh Shukla. This episode originally went out in early 2017, but it is never not relevant. And there’s a chunk of new material in the Minillusionist, so stick around right till the end to hear that. Find ou...

120. Shine Theory
It’s great when you coin a phrase that really resonates with people, right? Until they start using it for businesses and ventures that are at odds with the meaning of it… Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, hosts of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend and authors of the new book Big Friendship, talk about what their term Shine Theory really means and what they had to do to keep it that way. Find out more about this episode at theallusionist.org/shinetheory. The Allusionist's online home is theallusionist.org....


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 Boyarin teamed up to translate Black Lives Matter without it. Find out more about this episode, the subject matter and the interviewees, at theallusionist.org/yiddishblm. Content note: since the episode is discussing a slur, it does contain incidences of the slur. There is also one category B swear. The Allusionist's online home is theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at twitter.com/allus...

118. Survival: Bequest
When the Europeans arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as guns, stoats and Christianity, they brought ideas of cisgender monogamous heterosexuality that were imposed upon the Māori people as if there had never been anything else. But one word, takatāpui, proved otherwise. Lecturer Hemi Kelly and activist Elizabeth Kerekere excavate the linguistic evidence that pre-colonisation, Māori culture had included myriad sexual orientations, gender fluidity and polyamory. Find out more about this episode, ...

117. Many Ways At Once
The Scots language didn’t have much of an LGBTQ+ lexicon. So writer and performer Dr Harry Josephine Giles decided to create one. Find out more about this episode, the subject matter and the interviewees, at theallusionist.org/manywaysatonce. Previous Allusionist episodes that go alongside this episode include Oot in the Open, Queer and Two Or More. And Josie has written up a very interesting document about the LGBTQ+ lexicon in Scots which you can read at bit.ly/lgbtscots. Wishing you all an exce...


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 they found in Pompeii without anyone who wasn’t an upper class male archaeologist knowing about it. Even though, at the same time, Victorian England was awash with what we’d now term pornography. Dr Kate Lister of Whores of Yore and pornography historian Brian Watson of histsex.com explain the history of the word, and how the Victorian Brits dealt with material that gave them stirring...

115. Keep Calm and
Twenty years ago, a 1939 poster printed by the British government with the words ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ turned up in a second-hand bookshop in Northern England. And lo! A decor trend was born: teatowels, T-shirts, mugs, phone cases, condoms, and a zillion riffs on the phrase. Bookshop owner Stuart Manley talks about unearthing the poster that spawned countless imitations; author Owen Hatherley explains why the poster was NOT, in fact, an exemplar of Blitz Spirit and British bulldog courage and whatnot;...

Tranquillusionist: Punchlines
This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, in the interests of temporarily trying to stop that feeling where you think your brain is trying to claw its way out of your skull, read the punchlines to classic jokes. This episode, including a transcript, resides at theallusionist.org/punchlines; see if you can figure out all the jokes they belong to. Find all the Allusionist episodes - other Tranquillusionists and also ones that are actually about something - at theallusionist.org. The ...


Tranquillusionist: Best In Show
This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, for the purposes of calming a frazzled brain, read the winners of Best In Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. This episode resides at theallusionist.org/best-in-show; you can find all the Allusionist episodes, including other Tranquillusionists, at theallusionist.org. The original music is by Martin Austwick. Hear Martin’s songs at palebirdmusic.com or on Spotify, and he’s @martinaustwick on Twitter and Instagram. The Allusionist'...

Tranquillusionist: Nmiigea
This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, for the purposes of quelling anxiety and stress and sleeplessness, read the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon, with the words arranged in reverse alphabetical order. This episode resides at theallusionist.org/nmiigea; you can find all the Allusionist episodes, including other Tranquillusionists, at theallusionist.org. The original music is by Martin Austwick, based on the chords of ‘Imagine’ in alphabetical order. Hear Martin’s songs at paleb...

Tranquillusionist: Nmiigea
This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, for the purposes of quelling anxiety and stress and sleeplessness, read the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon, with the words arranged in reverse alphabetical order. This episode resides at theallusionist.org/nmiigea; you can find all the Allusionist episodes, including other Tranquillusionists, at theallusionist.org. The original music is by Martin Austwick, using the cords of ‘Imagine’ but in alphabetical order. Hear his songs at palebirdmusic....


Tranquillusionist: Your Soothing Words
We interrupt the Allusionist break to bring an emergency calming episode. I asked you listeners which words you find soothing. Here they are. Put this episode on a loop to help you sleep; play it to quell your inner monologue; use it as an unreasonably long text tone; whatever you want. View a list of the words at theallusionist.org/tranquillusionist, and find all the Allusionist episodes at theallusionist.org. Martin Austwick composed the beautiful music. Find his songs at palebirdmusic.com, and he’s...

114. Alarm Bells
As the climate changes, so does the vocabulary around it - to amplify concern, to dampen concern, to serve corporate concerns… It is linguistically fraught! Journalist Amy Westervelt of the podcast Drilled, Alice Bell from the climate charity Possible, and Robin Webster from Climate Outreach explain some of the shifts in terminology, the squabbles and the industry interference - and how to communicate about climate in a way that does result in useful action. Find out more about this episode, the subject ...

113. Zaltzology
Today’s episode is something a bit different to usual. A few months ago, I was a guest on the podcast Ologies, a terrific show where the very funny and delightful and curious Alie Ward interviews an ologist of some kind - bisonologist (ologist of bisons), ludologist (video games), corvid thanatology (crow funerals!). Alie interviewed me as an etymologist (I’m not a qualified etymologist, mind; just an enthusiast), and we cover etymologies of words including ‘buxom’, ‘mediocre’, ‘coccyx’, ‘lacuna’, bust s...


112. Quiz 2019
For your last Allusionist of 2019, here is a quiz all about words for you to play along with as you listen. Get a pen and paper to jot down your answers, or there’s an interactive answer form all ready for you at theallusionist.org/2019quiz. Let me know how you score in the quiz a at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. The show will be back in January 2020. For all Allusionist episodes, extra material, transcripts, merch etc, visit http://theallusionist.org. ...

Allusionist special: Podcast Podcast
Here’s a special episode about the word that brought us all together… aaand a lot of you hate it. This piece was recorded in front of a live audience at PodCon in Seattle. Get your regular dose of the Allusionist at theallusionist.org. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....

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 reading them - your grandchildren wearing your wedding ring, the stranger who found your long-lost multitool, yourself at a time of need. Steven Yardley of Milne & Yardley talks about the disappearing craft of hand engraving. Max Ullmann of the antique jewellery shop A.R. Ullmann Ltd shows the objects engraved in centuries past. Wearing their grandmothers’ rings, Lisa Hack connects to family she doesn’t...


110. Engraving part 1
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? What were their personalities, what happened in their lives? And didn’t they deserve something more meaningful, more personal, than these bland and repetitive epitaphs? So when Dave’s father died a few years later, Dave was determined to choose better words to...

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 see similar - or even the exact same - epitaphs for lots of different people. And it made him curious: who were these people, really? What were their personalities, what happened in their lives? And didn’t they deserve something more meaningful, more personal, than these bland and repetitive epitaphs? So when Dave’s father died a few years later, Dave was determined to choose better words to...

109. East West
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 Germany had already been speaking German, of course; but there were differences, from the years of very concerted separation, the attempts at isolating East Germany from what was considered Western culture and capitalism, and the specifically East German conce...


108. Enjoy!
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 Robson and former server Sara Brooke Curtis explain how what servers say is affected by such things as restaurant furniture, tipping, the need to turn a table around quickly for the next diners, and customer moods and caprices. Find out more about this episo...

108. Enjoy!
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 Robson and former server Sara Brooke Curtis explain how what servers say is affected by such things as restaurant furniture, tipping, the need to turn a table around quickly for the next diners, and customer moods and caprices. Find out more about this episode...

107. Apples
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 groups, taste tests and word associations - a far cry from when apples were named after whichever end of a cat they resembled. This episode is a collaboration with The Sporkful podcast, where we have released companion episodes about apples: hear us talking ...


106. Typo Demom
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. The Allusionist's online home is theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at twitter.com/allusionistshow, facebook.com/allusionistshow and instagram.com/allusionistshow. The Allusionist live show No Title is heading off on a tour of North America from Oct...

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… 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 cheese-like substance of the 1920s - but right now, with plant-based foods on the rise, we’re seeing more of them. Branding consultant and name developer Nancy Friedman casts her expert glance over the apostrophes and deliberate misspellings on foodstuffs; and vegan ...

104. Words into Food
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 spots a foodstuff or a feast in a novel, she finds ways to cook it in reality, whether it’s delicious (Babette’s Feast), evil (Edmund’s Turkish delight in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe) or poisonous (the crab and avocado in The Bell Jar). Find ou...


103. Food Into Words
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 and physical actions and sensory experiences into words - all that takes work. Recipe writers MiMi Aye and Felicity Cloake and cookbook editor Rachel Greenhaus consider the verbal ingredients of a well-written recipe. Find out more at theallusionist.org/fo...

102. New Rules
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 new book Because Internet, explains how the internet changes the rules of language. Find out more at theallusionist.org/new-rules. The Allusionist's online home is theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at twitter.com/allusionistshow, facebook.com/allusio...

101. Two Or More
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 ride. Mark Wilkinson studied 70 years of Times newspapers to trace how the British mainstream press used the term. Find out more at theallusionist.org/bisexual. The Allusionist's online home is theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at twitter.com/allusion...


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 show’s existence. The first is Joins. You listeners talk about your particular experiences in your trans bodies, dealing with the available vocabulary for sex and the associated body parts. Content note: the episode contains language pertaining to sex and the associated body parts. Second is Pride: the story of how that word was chosen in 1970 for LGBTQ Pride events. Find out more at th...

100. The Hundredth
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 their Allusionist debut. *short hundred, not long hundred. Thanks for listening to the Allusionist! If you’ve liked any of the 100 episodes, tell someone else about it. Content note: this episode contains swears. Find out more about this episode...

99. Polari
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, Britain’s Secret Gay Language, explains how Polari emerged from criminal cant and London’s theatres and docks to be used a code language for gay men in the oppressive 1950s - and then, not long after, it entered the slang lexicons of the general public, via ...


98. Alter Ego
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 anonymous, unidentified, or fake. There is one strong swear in this episode. Find out more about this episode and the people and facts in it at theallusionist.org/alter-ego. The Allusionist's online home is theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at twitter.com/...

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! 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 Forward, tracks the past and present of one of her favourite phrases. Find out more about this episode at theallusionist.org/future. The all new Allusionist live show, No Title, is touring in New Zealand and Australia. Visit theallusionist.org/events for inf...

96. Trust
“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 existence, but may now be too popular for its own good. Find out more about this episode at theallusionist.org/trust. The all new Allusionist live show, No Title, is heading to New Zealand! Tickets for Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are on sal...


95. Verisimilitude
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 new languages that sound real. Conlanger David Peterson talks about how he created languages for HBO’s Game of Thrones. Find out more about this episode at theallusionist.org/verisimilitude. The Allusionist's online home is theallusionist.org. Stay i...

94. Harsh Realm
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 these? It’s OK, that’s not because you’re a cob nobbler (= loser). They were all made up. By Megan Jasper. Now the CEO of Sub Pop records, she recounts her linguistic prank. Find out more about this episode at theallusionist.org/grungehoax. NB there ...

93. Gossip
‘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. Lainey Lui, founder of laineygossip.com, and Buzzfeed News’ senior culture writer (and doctor of celebrity gossip) Anne Helen Petersen explain why. Find out more about this episode at theallusionist.org/gossip. NB there are a few swears in this episode....


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”, 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. Countdown’s Susie Dent holds our hands and takes us on a tour of misspellings, mishearings, scrambled letters and bear cubs. In the new Minillusionist at the end of the episode, we’re back on your favourite subject: swearing! And why the blazes are there all...

Extra special QUIZ!
Here’s 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. Let me know how you fare in the quiz and puzzles at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. The show will be back on 23 January 2019. For all Allusionist episodes, extra material, transcripts, event listings etc, visit http://theallusionist.org. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.c...

91. Bonus 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 ready for gory 19th century London slang, the rise and fall of superhero capes, the post-WW1 trend for nudism, and more. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/bonus2018. There is one swear in this episode. The Allusionist’s onli...


90. Dear Santa
Jim Glaub and Dylan Parker didn’t think too much of it when, every year, a few letters for Santa were delivered to their New York apartment. But then one year, 400 letters arrived. And they decided they had to answer them. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/dear-santa, and visit http://miracleon22ndstreet.com to learn more about the nonprofit Jim and Dylan now run, donate, and get involved. The Allusionist’s online home is http://theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at http:...

89. WPM
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 Austwick. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/wpm. **There is one swear word in this episode. See if you can spot it.** Get very cute T-shirts, totes and onesies with an exclusive typing artwork by Eleni Kalorkoti at http://theall...

88. Name Changers
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 more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/name-changers.\ This episode is part of Name Season here at the Allusionist, along with episode 83. Yes, As In, about having a name that is more usually a noun or adjective; 86. Name Therapy, ab...


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 officially approved list. If you want a name that deviates from that list, you have to send an application to the Icelandic Naming Committee, whose three members will decide whether or not you’re allowed it. And if they say you’re not…you might have to take things pretty far. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/icelandic-names. The Allusionist live tour is ON NOW, at ci...

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 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 Name Therapist. Duana offers advice on how to name your baby/future adult, so their name works shouted across a playground, whispered into an ear, scribbled on a coffee cup. She also deals with your concerns about being named after a relative or parent’s ...

85. Skin Story
“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 about this episode at https://theallusionist.org/skin-story. The Allusionist’s online home is http://theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and https://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreo...


84. Trammels
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 creativity will be unleashed. Find more about this episode at theallusionist.org/trammels. Jez Burrows is the author of the book Dictionary Stories, which is out now; find his work at jezburrows.com. Ross Sutherland makes the podcast Imaginary Advice; fin...

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 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 in every name, and yours is probably a more interesting story than most. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/nounnames. WARNING: there are a few swears in it. (But none of the people have swear names, thankfully.) Th...

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 psychologist Jane Gregory explains why she sometimes prescribes novel-reading to her patients; and academic Guy Cuthbertson tells how post-WW1 Britain was soothed by Agatha Christie. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/convalescence. The Allusionist’s online home is http://theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook....


81. Shark Week
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 express the absence of feeling? Does ‘testify’ have anything to do with testicles? Do avocados have anything to do with testicles? How does the phrase “It’s all Greek to me” relate to food styling? Can you have a caper with capers? Are sharks misunderstoo...

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 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. NB: the episode contains a couple of Strong Terms. Hear more Imaginary Advice episodes – some of my favourites are ‘Six House Parties’ and ‘Me Versus The Spar (parts 1-7)’ – and find the show’s live dates and Patreon, at imaginaryadvice.com.  The A...

80. Warm Front
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 laypeople watching – as well as cover all the weather across a whole country, translate conditions into something the viewer can identify with, and warn people about cyclones without making them too panicked. Or not panicked enough to take sensible cyclone precaut...


79. Queer
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. Tracing its movements are Kathy Tu and Tobin Low from Nancy podcast, Eric Marcus from Making Gay History, historian and author Amy Sueyoshi, and Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye.  Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/queer. Content ...

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 is banned. If you speak it, you’ll be punished physically or psychologically. Across your country, there are people like you who associate their first language with shame, or not even being a language at all. This is the predicament of the Scots language. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/scots. I have several events coming up – in the next few weeks, the live Allus...

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 The Key episodes about why languages die and how they can be resuscitated. The Rosetta Stone and its modern equivalent the Rosetta Disk preserve writing systems to be read by future generations. But how do those generations decipher text that wasn’t written with the expectation of requiring decipherment? Features mild scenes of linguistic apocalypse. ...


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 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 http://theallusionist.org/survival1. The Allusionist’s online home is http://theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystu...

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 why? Linguist Lynne Murphy points out the geographical, cultural and social influences that separate the common language. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/across-the-pond. The Allusionist’s online home is http://theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: h...

75. Ear Hustling
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://theallusionist.org/ear-hustling. The Allusionist’s online home is http://theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. You can see the Allusionist live in Australia – http://theallusionist.org/ev...


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 Byrne, author of Swearing Is Good For You, explains how swearing can be beneficial to your physical health and emotional wellbeing, while Matt Fidler of Very Bad Words podcast gives some tips to ensure you swear properly to optimise the positive effects. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/swear-pill. The show’s online home is http://theallusionist.org. Stay in touch a...

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 and spandex garments, but the way their names are concocted have followed only a handful of formulae in the past 80 years, since Superman sent superheroes soaring.  (Yes, alliteration is one such naming formula.) Glen Weldon of Pop Culture Happy Hour traces the supername’s development from Adjective+Gender through Colour+Noun to Normal Name and Lon...

72. Hey
“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 sent them. Striking up an interaction with someone is a tricky business. Why Oh Why and Longest Shortest Time host Andrea Silenzi opens up her phone to analyse the kinds of opening messages people send on dating apps, and how easily they can la...


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, 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 limits. Plus: Paul Anthony Jones, aka etymologist extraordinaire Haggard Hawks, describes how politicians’ names work their way into our vocabularies. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/trump. The show’s online home is ht...

70. Bonus 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 year, hear about the history of roller skates, zazzification, giant origami, the heat death of the universe and more. Find information about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/bonus2017. Come to see the live Allusionist show at SF Sketchfest, 10pm 1...

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 is a synonym for rosy-cheeked, full-stomached, fattened-goose, hearty merry “God bless us every one” Christmas? Avery Trufelman and Katie Mingle of 99% Invisible report from the streets of Victorian London at the annual Dickens Christmas Fair in Daly City, California, while historian Greg Jenner explains the origins of the festive traditions for which Dickens gets the credit, without ...


68. Curse Soup
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, scrawl an insulting message into the dirt on their car. C. Get a small sheet of lead, scratch into it a message cursing your enemies, roll it up and throw it into your nearest sacred spring? Oh, I forgot to mention that it’s 1,700-2,000 years ago and...

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? A heartfelt dispatch from your past self that’s about to change the course of your life? Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/open-me-2. The show’s online home is http://theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio....

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 stage 4 cancer, Alison offered to write him letters. 100 letters later, their lives were changed. Ear Hustle is a podcast made inside San Quentin by and about the men incarcerated there, in collaboration with Nigel Poor. In prison, a letter is a precious thing. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/open-me-1. The show’s online home is http://theallusionist.org....


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 about the origins of the word ‘guy’. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/guy. CONTENT NOTE: the episode contains a description of 17th century torture and execution. The show’s online home is http://theallusionist.org. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allu...

64. Technobabble
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 science fiction. This episode is a collaboration with Eric Molinsky of Imaginary Worlds; listen to his episode about technobabble, featuring ACTUAL HOLLYWOOD TECHNOBABBLERS, at http://imaginaryworldspodcast.org. The show’s online home is http://theal...

63. Evolution of Accents
“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 investigates how accents have evolved in the UK and USA. Hear Twenty Thousand Hertz at http://20k.org and find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/evolution-of-accents. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http:...


62. In Crypt, Decrypt
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 you from a church basement on the Upper East Side of New York City, wherein takes place America’s second largest crossword puzzle tournament: Lollapuzzoola. For more about this episode, visit http://theallusionist.org/lollapuzzoola. Stay in touch at htt...

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 years ago, graphology – analysing handwriting to deduce characteristics of the writer – has struggled to be taken seriously as a practice. But undoubtedly, there are things about ourselves that we can’t help but reveal in our handwriting. Graphologist Adam Brand explains the ‘pseudoscience/useful art’. For more about this episode, visit http://theallusionist.org/graphology. Stay in...

60. Zillions
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 ‘kajillion’. For more about this episode, visit http://theallusionist.org/zillions. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/...


59. One To Another
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 Memory Palace from English to Brazilian Portuguese, and turns it into a book – O Palácio da Memória – which will be published in Brazil two weeks hence. But, like any love story, it’s not quite that simple. Literary translator Caetano Galindo recounts t...

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 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 vessel in her brain bursts. When she wakes up in hospital, days later, she has no internal monologue, and a vocabulary of only forty words. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/eclipse, and more about Lauren at http://astitchoftime....

57. AD/BC
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 system of counting the years? There’s more about the episode at http://theallusionist.org/abdc.  Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See...


56. Joins
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 frank discussions of sex and bodies. There’s more about the episode at http://theallusionist.org/joins. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist ...

55. Namaste
“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 at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....

54. The Authority
“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, it is a fascinating, complicated, exacting thing. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/authority. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon...


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 official categories. But in many ways, depending on how they use them, they can change and become more negative.” So says propaganda and migration specialist Emma Briant, as she explains the dangers of conflating and misusing terms like ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum seeker’, while British/Asian/but-kinda-not author Nikesh Shukla wonders where he’s from – where he is really fr...

14 rerun: Behave
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 as well – get ready for a thrill-ride into medieval accounting technology. Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener ...

52. Sanctuary
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 history of meaning something quite different: refuge for criminals. Rosalind Brown, a canon at Durham Cathedral, and historian John Jenkins explain how and why, for 1000 years, churches in England offered shelter to murders and thieves fleeing justice. ...


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 without laughing/dying of embarrassment?) Aiding in the search for a better sex lexicon – sexicon – are Kaitlin Prest of The Heart, and romance novelist Mhairi McFarlane. CONTENT NOTE: this episode contains Sexual Language from the start. For more information about this episode, visit http://theallusionist.org/covers-ii. Find the show at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://f...

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 while you’re in there. Bea and Leah Koch, proprietors of America’s sole romance-only bookstore The Ripped Bodice, consider the genre; and publisher Lisa Milton scrolls through the 109-year history of the imprint that epitomises romance novels, Mills & Boon. For more information about this episode, visit http://theallusionist.org/covers-i. Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and h...

49. Bonus 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 edition of The Allusionist, featuring listeners’ etymology requests and extra material from guests who’ve appeared on the show this year. For links and more information about the episode, visit http://theallusionist.org/bonus2016. The show will return in early F...


48. Winterval
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 events under the name ‘Winterval’. The council’s then-head of events Mike Chubb explains the true meaning of Winterval. For more information about this episode, visit http://theallusionist.org/winterval. Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and...

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 The Year Without A Summer, the story of how Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. This piece first appeared on Eric Molinsky’s excellent podcast Imaginary Worlds. Hear all the episodes at http://imaginaryworldspodcast.org. For more information, visit http://theallusionist.org/frankenstein. Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Su...

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 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 yours is, check that it is not in fact an advertising slogan. PRX staff reveal their state mottos – or what they thought were their state mottos, until this episode ruined it for them – and how those words have shaped their perception of their state and the...


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 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 Nazi war criminals. Eponyms are controversial things. Visit http://theallusionist.org/name-that-disease for more information about this episode. Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: h...

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 for more information about this topic. Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....

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 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 swear word towards the end of this episode. But it IS there for educational purposes only. ALSO NB: After the episode was released, I was alerted that listener Ryan’s request was about a FAKE Mike Pence statement. I CAN NEVER TRUST YOU AGAIN, RYAN! The e...


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. Laura Welcher of the Rosetta Project shows us the Rosetta Disk, a slice of electroplated nickel three inches in diameter that bears text in 1500 languages for future linguists to decipher. Ilona Regulski of the British Museum describes how its namesake, the Rosetta Stone, unlocked hieroglyphics. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/rosetta. Find me at ht...

41. Getting Toasty
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 can’t even string a sentence together. And even if you can, that sentence may only make sense in Antarctica. To explain why are Antarctica veteran Allison ‘Sandwich’ Barden, endocrinologist Tom Baranski, and astrophysicists Amy Lowitz and Christine Mora...

40. Olympics
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. Seek me out online at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow, and on stage at the London Podcast Festival – get tickets at http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/spoken-word/the-allusionist. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/liste...


39. Generation What?
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 Millennial podcast, consider whether the generational names are useful or reductive. Or both. Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/generation-what. Seek me out at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow....

38. Small Talk
“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 vital information, nor is it especially interesting. But beneath that comfort blanket of tedium lies a valuable social function. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/smalltalk. Chitchat with me at http://twitter.com/allusi...

12 rerun: Pride
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 http://theallusionist.org/pride-rerun. Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....


37. Brand It
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, and why so many currently end in ‘-ify’. Plus: The Allusionist’s origin story, with Roman Mars. Read Nancy’s excellent blog about naming and trends in the language of commerce at http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com. There’s more about this episode at http...

36. Big Lit
‘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. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/biglit. Announce your favourite classics at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/l...

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 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://theallusionist.org/word-of-the-day. Visit me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....


34. Continental
‘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 this episode at http://theallusionist.org/continental. Visit me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information...

33. Please
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. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/please. Please greet me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for pri...

32. Soho
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 hotchpotch: landmarks present and long gone; 1,000-year-old vanity projects; and Cockfosters. This is a companion piece to the 99% Invisible episode ‘The Soho Effect’: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-soho-effect. There’s more about this episode at htt...


31. Post-Love
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 are adult themes and a couple of category B swearwords. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/post-love. Don’t go breaking my heart: say hi at twitter.com/allusionistshow and facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: ht...

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 of a senator, and whether Congress should get sexy. And we revisit the UK Election Lexicon – http://theallusionist.com/electionlexicon – for the origin of words like ‘campaign’, ‘ballot’, ‘democracy’, ‘poll’, ‘debate’ and ‘argue’. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/us-electionlexicon. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/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? For full show notes and links, visit http://theallusionist.org/wltm-ii. Hear WLTM part I at http://theallusionist.org/wltm-i. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allu...


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. Francesca Beauman, author of Shapely Ankle Preferr’d: A History of the Lonely Hearts Ad, digs into lonely hearts ads to see how British society and desires have evolved over the past three centuries. For full show notes and links, visit http://theallusionist.org/wltm-i. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and ht...

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 in the show earlier this year. We’ve got Klingon! Acid trips! The plural of ‘octopus’! An unwitting cameo from Cliff Richard! Warning: this episode contains references to drugs, sex and genitals, plus some mild swears (category B/C). Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/bonus2015, and say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/a...

26. Xmas Man
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 removal from everybody’s Christmas card lists. Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/christmas Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusi...


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. And Nate DiMeo, from the Memory Palace, decided we should learn it together. Find the Memory Palace at http://thememorypalace.us/. Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/tokipona and say hello at http://twitter.co...

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 Dave Nadelberg from Mortified discuss the art and practice of keeping a diary. Find the Mortified podcast, stage shows, documentary, TV series and books at http://getmortified.com. Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/diaries. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusi...

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. Find Criminal at http://thisiscriminal.com. Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/criminallusionist. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Suppor...


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. Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/vocables. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow, and find Song Exploder at http://songexploder.net. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information...

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, according to 99% Invisible’s Roman Mars, “When it comes to word origins, an eponym is the shortest bet you’re going to get a good story out of it.” Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/ballpoint. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionists...

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. There is more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/baby-talk. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....


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. There is more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/dance. Say hello...

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. In Europe, a new strain of English is emerging. It’s not spoken very widely, bu...

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. In the early 18th century, a movement of grammarians and authors wanted to set up an official authority to regulate English, like French had in the Academie Francaise. But is trying to fix a language a good move? Linguists Liv Walsh and Thomas Godard weigh up the evidence. There is more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/fix-i. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusion...


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. There is more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/word-play. Tell me about the word games you’ve invented at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allus...

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-‘. There is more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/step. Share your feelings about steprelations at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionist...

14. Behave
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 topics which may not be comfortable for everybody. Stay in touch! Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....


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. CONTENT WARNING: this episode contains one category B swear word, plus reference to penises growing on trees. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/emoji, including a fine selection of m...

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 episode at http://theallusionist.org/pride. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. This episode was produced by me and Eleanor McDowall of Falling Tree, ...

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 http://sporkful.com. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/brunch. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....


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. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/electionlexicon. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....

9. The Space Between
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 find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....

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. Visit theallusionist.org/crosswords to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....


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 about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....

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. Visit theallusionist.org/museums to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....

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! Visit theallusionist.org/latin to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....


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. Visit http://theallusionist.org/c-bomb to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Subscribe on iTunes http://tinyurl.com/iTunesAllusionist. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnys...

3. Going Viral
Remember when ‘viral’ used to only mean something bad, eg. 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://theallusionist.org/viral to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....

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’. Visit http://theallusionist.org/bras to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Subscribe on iTunes at http://tinyurl.com/itunesAllusionist. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information....


1. Ban The Pun.
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. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Subscribe on iTunes http://tinyurl.com/iTunesAllusionist. Subscribe on iTunes at http://tinyurl.com/itunesAllusionist. Support the show: http://patreon.com/allusionist ...