Allusionist 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.

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Allusionist 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 even wanting the credit - in fact, his motivation for writing A Christmas Carol was far from a cash-in on Christmas.

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Allusionist 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.


One of the newest members of Radiotopia is Ear Hustle, 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.

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Allusionist 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.

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Allusionist 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'.

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Allusionist 22: Vocables

Hey! You! If you enjoy this show, or any of the other shows that are part of Radiotopia, please support the collective by donating at

I'll be extremely grateful to you if you do! Here's why.


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 Radiotopisibling Song Exploder and songwriter Tony Hazzard explain.


Still haven't donated to Radiotopia yet? Here's that link again for you. Slack have offered a further $25,000 provided we get 5,000 donors by Monday 26th October, so don't dawdle.


You wanna be a cool guy like Gavin and have the next randomly selected word from the dictionary dedicated to you? Then you'd better become a Radiotopia supporter at Don't make me tell you again.

Email your donation receipts to for the chance to be the randomly selected Radiotopia donor.


Ella Fitzgerald - ‘One Note Samba’
The Spice Girls - ‘Spice Up Your Life’
Theme from The Old Grey Whistle Test - ‘Stone Fox Chase’
Little Richard - 'Tutti Frutti'
The Crystals - ‘Da Do Ron Ron’
Black Lace - ‘Agadoo’
JLS - 'She Make Me Wanna'
Betty Wright - ‘Shoorah Shoorah’
Brokeback - ‘In the Reeds’

Come back in a week's time for the next Radiotopial special edition of the Allusionist. I promise not to sing.

- HZ

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX, which is supported by Mailchimp, the Knight Foundation, and listeners like you.