The Allusionist

Linguistic adventures with Helen Zaltzman for Radiotopia from PRX.


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April 14, 2017

“Sometimes you want to make the dictionary sexy but it’s just not a sexy thing,” says Kory Stamper, lexicographer for the Merriam-Webster dictionaries. Sorry if this is disillusioning news for you. The dictionary is not a sexy thing, but as Kory 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.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org. Join us for Radiotopia’s live tour of west coast cities this May – http://radiotopia.fm.live.

March 31, 2017

Propaganda and migration specialist Emma Briant 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 from.

There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/migration.

Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org. Join us for Radiotopia’s live tour of west coast cities this May – http://radiotopia.fm

March 17, 2017

Sometimes words can become your worst enemy. Clinical psychologist Jane Gregory tells how to defuse their power. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/behave.

This episode concerns mental health, and the discussion nudges some topics which may not be comfortable for everybody.

Stay in touch at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org. Join us for Radiotopia’s live tour of west coast cities this May – http://radiotopia.fm

March 7, 2017

The term ‘sanctuary cities’ has been in the news a lot in the past few weeks, as places in the USA declare themselves to be havens for undocumented immigrants. Though ‘sanctuary’ has a history of meaning safety for the persecuted, it has an even 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.

For more information about this episode, visit http://theallusionist.org/sanctuary; and listen to the 99% Invisible episodes about the modern sanctuary movement at http://99pi.org.

Find the show at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

February 21, 2017

Does the available vocabulary for sex leave something to be desired? Namely desire? (And also the ability to use it wthout laughing/dying of embarrassment?) Aiding in the search for a better sex lexicon – sexicon – are Kaitlin Prest of fellow Radiotopia podcast 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://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

February 8, 2017

Escape into the loving embrace of a romance novel – although don’t think you’ll be able to escape gender politics while you’re in there. Bea and Leah Koch, proprietors of America’s sole romance-only bookstore The Ripped Bodice, consider the genre; 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 http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

December 30, 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 February. Meanwhile, catch up on the back catalogue at http://theallusionist.org, and stay in touch at http://facebook.com/allusionistshow and http://twitter.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm from http://PRX.org.

December 6, 2016

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

It began in November 1998. Newspapers furiously accused Birmingham City Council of renaming Christmas when it ran festive 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 http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

November 21, 2016

Today: a tale of darkness, gathering storms, and a terrifying creature that resembles a human man…

No, nothing topical: it’s The Year Without A Summer, the story of how Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. This piece first appeared on Eric Molinsky’s excellent podcast Imaginary Worlds. Hear all the episodes at http://imaginaryworldspodcast.com.

For more information, visit http://theallusionist.org/frankenstein.

Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

November 4, 2016

Each of the 50 states in the USA has its own motto. The motto might be found on the state seal, or the state flag; more often than not, it might be in Latin, or Spanish, or Chinook; it might be a phrase or a single word. And if you think you know what yours is, check that it is not in fact an advertising slogan.

PRX.org 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 their selves.

For more information about this episode, visit http://theallusionist.org/state-mottos.

Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

October 16, 2016

If you love eponyms like Roman Mars loves eponyms, I’m afraid physician Isaac Siemens is here to deliver some bad news: medics are ditching them, in favour of terms that a) contain information about what the ailment actually is, and/or b) don’t honour Nazi war criminals. Eponyms are controversial things.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX, and Radiotopia needs you! This month is our fundraiser. To support independent audio, become a donor at http://radiotopia.fm (you can also get the fundraiser-exclusive Radiotopia challenge coin for your trouble).

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.

October 3, 2016

What is your beautiful brain up to as you comprehend language? Cognitive psychologist Jenni Rodd takes a peek.

Visit http://theallusionist.org/brain for more information about this topic.

Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

September 20, 2016

If you don’t have a Rosetta Stone to hand, deciphering extinct languages can be a real puzzle, even though they didn’t intend to be. They didn’t intend to become extinct, either, but such is the life (and death) of languages.

NB: there is a CATEGORY B swear word towards the end of this episode. But it IS there for educational purposes only.

There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/vestiges. It is a companion to episode 42: The Key part I: Rosetta, which is at http://theallusionist.org/rosetta.

Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

September 7, 2016

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

Laura Welcher of the Rosetta Project shows us the Rosetta Disk, a slice of electroplated nickel three inches in diameter that 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 http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

August 21, 2016

When you choose to spend the winter in Antarctica, you’ll be prepared for it to be cold. You know that nobody will be leaving or arriving until springtime. And you’re braced for months of darkness. But a few weeks after the last sunset, you might find you can’t even string a sentence together.

To explain why are Antarctica veteran Allison ‘Sandwich’ Barden, endocrinologist Tom Baranski, and astrophysicists Amy Lowitz and Christine Moran, reporting from the South Pole in the depths of winter.

Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/antarctica.

Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

August 5, 2016

On your marks…
Get set…
GO!

It’s the Etymolympics, where the gymnastics should be gymnaked and the hurdles are a bloodbath. Find out more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/olympics.

Be an Olympic-level champ and express your opinions about the show at http://surveynerds.com/allusionist. 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.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

July 12, 2016

Which are you: Millennial, Generation X, Baby Boomer, Silent Generation, an impressively young-looking Arthurian Generation? Or are you an individual who refuses to be labelled? Demographer Neil Howe, author Miranda Sawyer and Megan Tan, the host of 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.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

June 25, 2016

“How are you?”
“Oh, fine – and you?”
“Yeah, not bad. Nice day today, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it was a bit chilly this morning, but now the sun’s come out…” [Continue until the lift arrives, or until the end of time.]

Small talk is usually not conveying much 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/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

June 14, 2016

This week seems like a good one to listen again to last year’s episode Pride, about how the word came to be chosen for LGBTQ Pride. Activist and publisher Craig Schoonmaker tells the story.

There are full show notes and links to additional material at http://theallusionist.org/pride-rerun. Find me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

May 29, 2016

Got a company or a product or a website you need to name? Well, be wary of the potential pitfalls: trademark disputes; pronounceability; being mistaken for a dead body… Name developer Nancy Friedman explains how she helps companies find the right names, and why so many currently end in ‘-ify’. Plus: The Allusionist’s origin story, with Radiotopiskipper 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://theallusionist.org/brands. Greet me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

May 17, 2016

‘Classics’ started off meaning Latin and Greek works, then works that smacked of similar, and now – what, exactly? Books that are full of bonnets and dust? Author Kevin Smokler and bookseller Jonathan Main unpick what constitutes a classic, old or 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.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

May 1, 2016

Open up a dictionary, and you’ll find the history of human behaviour, the key to your own psychological state, and a lot of fun words about cats. Dictionary.com’s Renae Hurlbutt and Jane Solomon lead the way.

There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/word-of-the-day. Visit me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org.

April 16, 2016

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

Plus: more ‘please’, and how ‘thank you’ is not necessarily an expression of gratitude.

TL;DR: trust nothing.

There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/continental. Visit me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org. Radiotopia is having its first ever live show, featuring many of the shows performing new stories at the theatre at Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, 4th May 2016. It’ll be excellent! Get your tickets at http://radiotopia.fm/ace.

April 1, 2016

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

There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/please. Please greet me at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm from PRX.org. Radiotopia is having its first ever live show, featuring many of the shows performing new stories at the theatre at Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, 4th May 2016. It’ll be excellent! Get your tickets at http://radiotopia.fm/ace.

March 18, 2016

Around the world, there are several places called Soho, getting their names from an acronym/portmanteau-ish composite of local streets or neighbouring areas. But not the original Soho in London. In fact, London’s place names are an etymological hotchpotch: landmarks present and long gone; 1000-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 http://theallusionist.org/soho. Say ‘soHO!’ at twitter.com/allusionistshow and facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

March 5, 2016

Breaking up is hard to do, and it’s hard to put into appropriate words. Comedian Rosie Wilby seeks a better term for ‘ex’, and family law barrister Nick Allen runs through the vocabulary of divorce.

NOTE: this episode is not full of bawdy talk, but 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.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

February 17, 2016

The 2016 US election isn’t going away anytime soon, so let’s seek refuge in etymology. Consider the linguistically appropriate age of a senator, and whether Congress should get sexy.

And we revisit the UK Election Lexicon – http://theallusionist.com/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/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org. Spot the Radiotopians in this episode.

February 5, 2016

You’re looking for your perfect partner, but dating sites keep matching you with duds. So what do you do? Conduct an elaborate linguistic experiment, of course!

At least, that was futurist Amy Webb’s response to the situation. But did it work?

For 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.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

January 28, 2016

Your online dating profile is the latest spin on a 300-year-old tradition of advertising yourself in order to find a spouse, a sexual partner, or someone to take care of your pigs.

Francesca Beauman, author of Shapely Ankle Preferr’d: A History of 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 http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

December 23, 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/allusionistshow. The show will return on 27th January 2016.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

December 2, 2015

CONTENT WARNING: Be wary of listening to this episode around young children, as there may be life spoilers. Historian Greg Jenner traces the origins of that mythical beardy man who turns up in December with gifts. Helen Zaltzman also ensures her permanent removal from everybody’s Christmas card lists.

Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/christmas and say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

November 18, 2015

There’s a language which is said to be the smallest language in the world. It has around 123 words, five vowels, nine consonants, and apparently you can become fluent in it with around 30 hours’ study. It was invented by linguist Sonja Lang in 2001, and it’s called Toki Pona. And fellow Radiotopian 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.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

November 4, 2015

It’s cathartic; it’s a useful historical record; and it might help you behave better on public transport. Neil Katcher and Dave Nadelberg from Mortified discuss the art and practice of keeping a diary.

Find the Mortified podcast, stage shows, documentary, TV series and books at http://getmortified.com.

Roman Mars also stops by to talk about the Radiotopia fundraiser. To support the collective, become a donor at http://on.prx.org/radiotopia-forever.

Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/diaries. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

October 28, 2015

Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer from the podcast Criminal stop by to talk about the linguistic challenges of crime reporting. They also share their episode ‘Pants on Fire’, about lying. It’s an extremely useful handbook if you fancy becoming either a human polygraph, or an excellent liar.

Radiotopia needs your support. Become a donor at http://on.prx.org/radiotopia-forever.

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.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

October 21, 2015

La la la, dum di di dum, a wop bop a loo bop a wop bom bom – why are songs riddled with non-words masquerading as words? Hrishikesh Hirway from Song Exploder and songwriter Tony Hazzard explain.

Read more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/vocables. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow, and find Song Exploder at http://songexploder.net.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

Radiotopia needs your support. Become a donor at http://on.prx.org/radiotopia-forever.

October 14, 2015

Naming something after yourself: a grand display of egomania, or the humble willingness to be overshadowed by your own product? Stationery expert James Ward tells the tale of the people who begat the eponymous ballpoint pens Bic and Biro, because, 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/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

October 7, 2015

Why do we all sound like idiots when we talk to babies? Don’t be embarrassed, we’re helping them acquire language. Child psychologist Ben Jeffes explains.

There is more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/baby-talk. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

September 24, 2015

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture” is a problematic statement: not just because nobody can agree on who came up with it, but because dancing about architecture doesn’t seem particularly far-fetched. Talking about dance, however – 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 at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

September 9, 2015

The messiness of English is the price of its success. It is the most widely spoken language in the world, geographically, being an official language in 88 different countries, and there are countless different versions of it all over the world. With 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, but it is used by some of the most powerful people in the world. Hampton and Michael Catlin, founders of the collaborative online dictionary Wordset, lead us into this linguistic netherworld. Beware: excessive suffixes.

There is more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/fix-ii. Say hello at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

August 28, 2015

The English language is a mess. And if you don’t like it, what are you going to do about it – fix it? Good luck with that.

In the early 18th century, a movement of grammarians and authors wanted to set up an official authority to regulate English, 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/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

August 12, 2015

Words are all over the place. So how do you turn them into fun games? Here to show the way is Leslie Scott, founder of Oxford Games and inventor of more than forty games – including word games such as Ex Libris, Anagram and Flummoxed, and the non-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.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

July 29, 2015

‘Step-‘, as in stepparents or stepchildren, originated in grief. Family structures have evolved, but are stepmothers now so tainted by fairytale associations with the word ‘wicked’ that we need new terminology?

Lore’s Aaron Mahnke stops by to describe the lovelessness, literary tropes and life expectancy around ‘step-‘.

There is more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/step. There will also be a live discussion about it at http://Spoken.am/allusionist/step-away on 4th August, 8pm UK time, 3pm ET, 12pm PT; do drop by, and/or catch up afterwards.

Share your feelings about steprelations at http://twitter.com/allusionistshow and http://facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

July 1, 2015

Sometimes words can become your worst enemy. Clinical psychologist Jane Gregory tells how to defuse their power. There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/behave.

This episode concerns mental health, and the discussion nudges some topics which may not be comfortable for everybody. So if you have concerns, please sit this one out, and return in two weeks for the next Allusionist.

Stay in touch! Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

June 17, 2015

Emoji allow communication without words. Could emoji be the universal language of the 21st century? Matt Gray and Tom Scott, founders of the emoji-only messaging platform emoj.li, talk through the pitfalls; and History Today’s Dr Kate Wiles finds the 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 medieval marginalia. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

June 3, 2015

“The poison is shame. The antidote is pride.”

It’s June; the President of the USA has officially designated it LGBT Pride Month, and there’ll be Pride events around the world. But how did the word ‘pride’ came to be the banner word for demonstrations 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, with help from Peregrine Andrews. The music is by Martin Austwick.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

May 20, 2015

What does brunch have to do with Lewis Carroll? Fall down the rabbit hole of brunch semantics with Dan Pashman of the Sporkful podcast http://sporkful.com.

There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/brunch. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

May 6, 2015

On the eve of the 2015 General Election in the UK, take a jaunt through the etymology of election-related words. Find out why casting a vote should be more like basketball, and why polling is hairy.

There’s more about this episode at http://theallusionist.org/electionlexicon. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Also please air your thoughts about podcasts by filling in the Radiotopia survey at surveynerds.com/allusionist.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

April 22, 2015

I know this is a show about words, but forget the words for a moment; look at the spaces between the words. Without the spaces, the words would be nigh incomprehensible. Dr Kate Wiles explains the history of the space.

Visit theallusionist.org/spaces to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Also please give us your thoughts about podcasts at surveynerds.com/allusionist.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

April 8, 2015

Cryptic crosswords: delightful brain exercise, or the infernal taunting of the incomprehensible? Either way, crossword setter John Feetenby explains how they’re made and how to solve them.

Visit theallusionist.org/crosswords to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Also please give us your thoughts about podcasts at surveynerds.com/allusionist.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

March 25, 2015

You’d think you could trust dictionaries, but it turns out, they are riddled with LIES.

Visit theallusionist.org/mountweazel to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Also please give us your thoughts about podcasts at surveynerds.com/allusionist

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

March 11, 2015

Those words on museum walls that you can’t be bothered to read? They’re more important than you think…

Exhibition-maker Rachel Souhami explains why.

Visit theallusionist.org/museums to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

February 25, 2015

Every week since September 1989, a radio station in Finland has broadcast a weekly news bulletin…in Latin.

WHY?

Let’s find out!

Visit theallusionist.org/latin to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.org.

February 11, 2015

WARNING: this episode contains lots of swearing and words which some of you may find offensive. If, however, you love offensive words, you will enjoy this episode, which is all about how the C-word doesn’t deserve to be the pariah of cusses.

Visit http://theallusionist.org/viral to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow. Subscribe on iTunes http://tinyurl.com/iTunesAllusionist.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

January 28, 2015

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

How things have changed. Tom Phillips from Buzzfeed UK explains the language they choose to make content go viral.

Visit http://theallusionist.org/viral to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at facebook.com/allusionistshow.

The Allusionist is a proud member of http://Radiotopia.fm for http://PRX.org.

January 14, 2015

There are many synonyms for ‘underwear’. There are many synonyms for the body parts you keep in your underwear. But there’s only one word for ‘bra’.

Visit http://theallusionist.org/bras to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Subscribe on iTunes at http://tinyurl.com/itunesAllusionist.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.

January 14, 2015

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

Warning: this episode features some hideous incidences of wordplay.

Visit http://theallusionist.org/puns to find out more about this episode. Tweet @allusionistshow, and convene at http://facebook.com/allusionistshow. Subscribe on iTunes http://tinyurl.com/iTunesAllusionist. Subscribe on iTunes at http://tinyurl.com/itunesAllusionist.

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia.fm for PRX.