The Allusionist

The Allusionist

Adventures in language with Helen Zaltzman. TheAllusionist.org

Episodes

November 22, 2022 43 min

A lot of people assume that Fiona is a very old Scottish name, but the first known Scottish Fiona is from the 1890s: Fiona Macleod, the enormously popular novelist of Scotland's Celtic Revival movement. But when she suddenly stopped writing in 1905...and there turned out to be far more surprises about Fiona Macleod than the novelty of her name. Writer and performer Harry Josie Giles and PhD researcher Moll Callaway-Heaton consi...

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When is a war not a war? When the British Empire called it an 'emergency' so they didn't have to abide by wartime rules or lose their insurance payouts. Artist and researcher Sim Chi Yin reflects on the Malayan Emergency, a 12-year conflict that doesn't get talked about much now by either side; and historian Charlotte Lydia Riley considers the various reasons why the British opted for the term 'emergency', a...

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October 21, 2022 36 min

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

Content note: there is some description of torture about halfway through the episode.

Find out more about this episode and get extra information about the topics therein at theallusionist.org/rhino, where there's also a transcript.

The Allusionist's ...

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October 8, 2022 39 min

Self-help is a multibillion dollar genre of books, and Kristen Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg of By the Book podcast have lived by the advice of more than eighty of them. They discuss the ways these books use language to get into your brain, the negging and the euphemisms, what can actually be helpful, and why we should be more like dog.

Content note: we discuss dieting and sizeism, and there are fleeting mentions of rape and abuse....

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September 24, 2022 42 min

Empathy and kindness can be noble concepts in themselves, but as terms are thrown around enough to have become buzzwords, and in the process lose some of their meaning and purpose. Audiomakers Sandhya Dirks and Julia Furlan, and academic and podcaster Hannah McGregor, discuss the value and pitfalls of appealing to the emotions.

Content note: there are mentions of parental death, cancer in adults and babies, and suicide. There are a...

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September 9, 2022 34 min

“Anxiety is the parrot sidekick that rides on my shoulder and occasionally squawks warnings in my ear,” says Tim Clare, poet and podcaster and author of the book Coward: Why We Get Anxious & What We Can Do About It. We talk about anxiety, cowardice, magic bullets vs silver bullets, the scary Bible, and seagulls.

Content note for discussion about mental health, unsurprisingly, and colonial and military harmful practices.

Find ou...

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August 19, 2022 40 min

Grab your stake and crucifix pendant, we're going vampire-hunting! Well, vampire-etymology-hunting. The podcast Buffering the Vampire Slayer, which recaps the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode by episode, invited me to answer their listeners' questions of language that the show had provoked. Together with BVTS hosts Kristin Russo and Jenny Owen Youngs, I tackle the etymology of coven, vampire/vampyre, wigging out, th...

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August 5, 2022 24 min

There's lots of fun etymology of creatures and a lot of fun etymology derived from creatures, and now it is gathered into this fun playalong quiz about animal etymologies!

There's an interactive answer sheet at theallusionist.org/creaturequiz, plus more information about various animals and etymologies, and as always the full dictionary entry for the randomly selected word.

And come to see the new live show Your Name Here i...

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This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, say a load of deliberately boring words to distract your interior monologue from whatever dystopian stew it is in. Today: a list of the Big Things of Australia.

The Allusionist is on tour in Australia with the new live show Your Name Here, all about eponyms. Before you get too tranquil, visit theallusionist.org/events for dates and tickets to the remaining shows in Austral...

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June 25, 2022 27 min

The term 'queerbaiting' has evolved from meaning entrapment to marketing ploy to drawing "queer audiences into a piece of media that has no intention of actually meaningfully exploring queerness" says Leigh Pfeffer, host and producer of the podcast History Is Gay. Leigh tracks where the word's various incarnations came from, and why it should not be confused with 'queer coding'.

This episode contains som...

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June 11, 2022 25 min

From whitewash (the paint) we got whitewashing (the covering up of misdeeds) and from there greenwashing, redwashing, bluewashing, purplewashing, pinkwashing - and now rainbow washing, where companies will put Pride flags all over products and posts during the month of June, but behind the scenes will not necessarily be useful - and sometimes they'll be anti-useful. Mitra Kaboli, host of the new podcast Welcome to Provincetown,...

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May 27, 2022 20 min

The name Tiffany has been around for some 800 years. But you can't name a character in a historical novel 'Tiffany', because people don't believe the name is old. Science fiction and fantasy author Jo Walton coined the term "The Tiffany Problem" to express the disparity between historical facts and the common perception of the past.

Find out more information about the topics in this episode at theallusionist...

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May 13, 2022 30 min

Couple of easy straightforward questions for us to chew on: 1. What is ‘objectivity’ supposed to mean? And 2. does it exist? Lewis Raven Wallace, a journalist and audiomaker fired from his public radio job over his blog post entitled ‘Objectivity is dead and I'm okay with it’, considers the principals and practice of objectivity, and what might be fairer ones.

Find out more information about the topics in this episode at theall...

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April 18, 2022 37 min

Chinese is one of the oldest still-spoken languages in the world. But when technologies arrived like telegraphy and computing, designed with the Roman alphabet in mind, if Chinese wanted to be able to participate then it had to choose between adapting, or paying a heavy price. And sometimes both were inevitable. Jing Tsu, author of Kingdom of Characters: the Language Revolution that Made China Modern, recounts how Chinese contended...

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April 3, 2022 38 min

Hans Asperger would have been merely "a footnote in the history of autism", so why did he get to be the eponym in Asperger's syndrome? Because along with the usual problems medical eponyms pose, and his work not really earning him the honour, he collaborated with Nazis and sent children to a hospital where they would be experimented on and even killed.

Activist, writer and academic Morénike Giwa Onaiwu discusses the sti...

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April 3, 2022 37 min

Hans Asperger would have been merely "a footnote in the history of autism", so why did he get to be the eponym in Asperger's syndrome? Because along with the usual problems medical eponyms pose, and his work not really earning him the honour, he collaborated with Nazis and sent children to a hospital where they would be experimented on and even killed.

Activist, writer and academic Morénike Giwa Onaiwu discusses the sti...

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March 18, 2022 30 min

Bad hats, cat's pyjamas, banting, goops, creatures, and playing possum - what WERE people going on about during the Golden Age of detective fiction? Caroline Crampton of Shedunnit podcast and I get sleuthing into the slang of the mystery novels of the 1920s and 1930s.

Find out more information about the topics in this episode at theallusionist.org/beesknees, plus a transcript and the full dictionary entry for the randomly selec...

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March 5, 2022 31 min

"Warning: read and keep," says the piece of paper inside Kinder Surprise Eggs, in 34 languages; yet most people do neither thing. But sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris did read and keep it, and study what the egg is trying to tell us: about Kinder Egg toy safety, yes, but also about multilingualism, about an object that says 'yes!' but the warning says 'no!', about the signs of human idiosyncracy that show thems...

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February 19, 2022 27 min

Complex PTSD is different to PTSD, but there's not that much understanding of it as its own condition - which was not much help to Stephanie Foo when she was diagnosed with it in 2018. We talk about facing trauma rather than burying it, self-care and self-soothing, endurance being an underrated word, and why people can quit sniping about triggers. Stephanie’s new book is What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trau...

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December 23, 2021 25 min

I've been saving them up all year, and now it's time for the annual selection box of Bonus Bits! Things this year's guests said that couldn't fit into their episode, or weren't related to language, but ARE related to being a bonus bit. We've got percussive pan protests; the mating habits, and male-killing habits, of ladybirds; Icelandic aunts/uncles/cousins/wait which member of the extended family are you re...

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