Allusionist 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.

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Allusionist 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 upcoming 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 popular sketch comedy and the mouth of an annoyed princess.

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Allusionist 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.

  • How did John Doe come to be the name for a man, alive or dead, identity unknown or concealed in a legal matter? Strap in for a whirlwind ride into some frankly batshit centuries-old English law.

  • At their first bout of the 2019 season, the London Roller Girls talk about how they chose their roller derby names - or why they chose to get rid of one.

  • The 1930s and 40s were a golden age for detective fiction, which was also very popular and lucrative. Yet writing it was disreputable enough for authors to hide behind pseudonyms.

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Allusionist 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.

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Allusionist 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, it’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 explains why she pranked an unsuspecting journalist.

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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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