Posts tagged ‘words’

October 9, 2015

Dance, Baby, Dance

Podcasters, it is a long time since last we met*, but there is now a date for our next London meetup: 25th November. There are full details over at the Facebook event. Come along!

*Because I’ve spent nearly all of this year in my flat, working. Here are the latest Allusionists:

They said you can’t have werewolves AND Step Up 4 in one podcast about linguistics. I said: try me. theallusionist.org/dance

Why do we talk to babies like we – and they – are idiots? We can’t help it! For REASONS. We’re wired that way. theallusionist.org/baby-talk

For the next month, I’ll be releasing new Allusionists every week. Argh! I’m excited but daunted by the amount of work, as Answer Me This will also continue apace. Let’s see if I make it to November with ears and eyes intact.

PS Allusionist T-shirts have just landed.

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August 28, 2015

Truth Be Told

One of my favourite podcast genres is the ‘people telling true stories about their lives’ genre. Is there a pithier term for it? Anyway, imagine my joy when I got to host a PTTSATL show! Truth be Told just went out on BBC Radio 4, and is available online here.

I bear scars from this show. Not emotional ones – the mic stand took a chunk out of my hand so I spent the second half of the recording bleeding into a little pile of papers on which audience members had written their heartfelt personal stories.

I managed not to spill any blood when I appeared on Passion Pods. More surprisingly, I also managed to hold the tears in, even though I was talking about my slippery mess of a career. Though the twelve rough years all seem worth it now I get to make The Allusionist! Here are the latest couple of episodes:

In Word Play, I found out the ingredients of fun word games from games inventor Leslie Scott of Oxford Games, who came up with Ex Libris, Flummoxed and JENGA. She’s an absolute delight. There’s more about the episode and links to hear it at theallusionist.org/word-play.

The latest episode is a jaunty trip through 18th century grammatical history, and the almighty battle of language preservation vs language evolution. Which side are you on? theallusionist.org/fix-i

May 6, 2015

Election Lexicon

Happy Election Eve! (Interpret ‘happy’ as abstractly as you feel is necessary given the circumstances.)

Taking refuge in dictionaries from the political storms, for the new Allusionist I discovered the etymology of several election-related words, such as ‘poll’ (hairy!), ‘ballot’ (ballsy!), ‘argue’ (shiny!) and ‘Tory’ (a whole world of WTF). You can find the episode at theallusionist.org/electionlexicon, and it’s an excellent length to accompany you on your way to the polling station tomorrow, if that journey is precisely nine minutes.

PS: I wrote about the different parties’ names for The Pool, click here to read.

PPS: Here I am recording the episode at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. You might be able to hear from the show that it was WINDY.

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March 11, 2015

Allusionist 6: The Writing On The Wall

New Allusionist is out! In this episode, exhibition-maker Rachel Souhami reveals the work that goes into the text panels accompanying exhibits at museums – and that only 30% of visitors read them. I read them, Rachel! (Though admittedly when I’m abroad and the text panels are written in a language I don’t know, I feel slightly relieved not to feel the obligation.)

Perhaps my favourite thing about making The Allusionist is finding out about something I had no idea about. Rachel is fascinating, and I’ll never approach an exhibition in quite the same way again.

Full details and listening links are at theallusionist.org/museums, or have at it right here:

January 14, 2015

The Allusionist begins

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I am very excited to tell you that my new Radiotopia show The Allusionist – which many of you very generously Kickstarted last autumn – has landed!

It’s all about language – little documentaries about words and phrases, with etymological tidbits thrown in. Its online home is theallusionist.org, and the show is available via iTunes, SoundCloud, RSS and various other podcast-wranglers.

Upon hearing I was doing a show about language, loads of people asked me, “Will there be episodes about puns?” Well, guess what: the very first episode is about puns, so I could get the damn things out of the way. It features my punfortunate brother Andy (familiar to you Bugle fans), and the puntriarch himself, our father Zack. TAKE COVER.

I wanted to launch the show with a double bill, and the second episode is all about bras: blogger Lori Smith teaches me about the history of undergarments, while I wonder why we have so many synonyms for our knickers, but none for bras.


A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with the Radiotopian overlord Roman Mars, and he asked me how it was different starting a new podcast now to when Answer Me This! began eight years ago.

Here’s something which is the same: I don’t know exactly what my show is or how to make it, but I can only learn those things by making it and putting it out. One of the most important pieces of advice I give to people starting a podcast is not to publicise it for at least three months or ten episodes, whichever equals more episodes. They never believe me. But I insist that it’s a good move, because a show always improves, and finds its footing; and it’s not a problem, because when listeners do find it a little later, they are happy to find a backlog of episodes to binge on. Between you and me, I was hoping to follow this advice myself this time. BUT…

Here’s a difference: this time, people are listening. You can’t keep a Radiotopia production under the radar. And there was this very flattering review in the Allusionist’s debut week. Of course it is extraordinary to have listeners right from the start, but, given my statement in the paragraph above, it is also VERY DAUNTING. I was insomniac and crapping myself* for weeks before launching The Allusionist! When we launched AMT, I was totally gung ho: I had no idea what I was getting myself into, nor any relevant experience; and luckily our handful of listeners in the early days were very forgiving of these scrappy upstarts. Now, however, I have spent thousands of hours podcasting, so people expect me not to produce a sloppy bowl of shit soup. While I don’t think the first episodes are sloppy bowls of shit soup, I’ve never presented or produced anything like The Allusionist before – it’s a very different beast to AMT, or Sound Women, or live radio – and I know it will take me a few months to get to grips with it properly. So you’re very welcome to listen to the show now, but you’re also welcome to go away and come back in, say, September, when it is likely to be a fully realised audio masterpiece (or a tidy bowl of shit soup, at least).

Here’s another difference: I am now a full-time podcaster, and it is the best job I have ever had. Long may it continue!

*Not literally, thanks for your concern.

November 2, 2011

“vintage”

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The above carrier bag, which held a jacket I bought on Sunday, summarises a debate about vintage I’ve been having with myself for quite some time.

I wear a lot of “vintage clothes”, which, lest you are confused, means clothes that are old, rather than clothes made of wine. My colossal inner pedant has never been happy with the term, although it doesn’t have a problem with “vintage cars”, probably because I have absolutely no opinion whatsoever on vintage cars (which, lest you are confused, means cars that are old, not cars made of wine, etc etc).

I understand why “vintage” entered the fashion lexicon, to denote valuable, not-old-enough-to-count-as-antique garments, and distinguish them from “second-hand”, ie clothes that were too shit for somebody else to hang on to. Now, although vintage still commands greater prices than second-hand, it is sweepingly used to describe any clothes that have no qualification beyond having previously graced a human body. Browsing on eBay, I come across “vintage” items which are 3-month-old Topshop, which is hardly akin to stumbling upon a well-preserved Horrocks dress. I’m now old enough to find clothes in vintage shops that I remember from the first time round, and not because I spent any time shopping at Dior or Madame Grès over the past century, but because they’re from H&M and even Primark!

So many liberties have been taken with it that I feel the already unmotivated “vintage” has been stripped of relevant meaning, and have reverted to using “second-hand” although I feel it smacks of inverse snobbery. So, friends, help me out: what do you think would be a better term?

My granny, who used to volunteer at her village’s thrift shop (thanks to which we had a dressing-up box full of dinner suits in improbable sizes – massive waist with stumpy legs, tall and skinny with short arms, etc), deployed the euphemism “pre-owned”. This, I now realise, would also cover stolen goods, so I begin wonder whether granny’s thrift shop was really a front for the shady industries of the North Hertfordshire criminal underworld.