Allusionist 98. Alter Ego

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Today: three pieces about alter egos, when your name - the words by which the world knows you - is replaced by another for particular purposes.

Part 1: Doe, a deer, a female deer; and also an unidentified corpse

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.

Part 2: My Wheel Self

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. We also hear from Queersplaining’s Callie Wright, AKA Ursa Maim-Her.

Part 3: Cover Story

The 1930s and 40s were a golden age for detective fiction, which was also very popular and lucrative. (And good for your health!) Yet writing it was disreputable enough for authors to hide behind pseudonyms. Caroline Crampton of Shedunnit podcast explains why.

FYI: there is one swear in this episode.


The Allusionist’s 100th episode impends! If you’d like to celebrate this landmark with me, use phone voice memo or something record yourself saying the best thing you’ve learned about language from the Allusionist. Then email the recording to Thanks!

*Speaking of J.K. Rowling: I’m on the latest episode of Potterless podcast, examining chapter 23 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in detail. DETAILED detail. This episode is, somehow, only suitable for adults.



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  • London Roller Girls was the first roller derby league to be established in the UK. Visit to find out about upcoming events - the match I saw against Oxford was thrilling, and I was surprised to find myself feeling so emotional. Thanks to Christina Dixon, AKA Brat, as well as Basher Fierce, Katie Hellvetica Black, Kate Russell and HumpMe.

  • Callie Wright, AKA Ursa Maim-Her, makes the podcast Queersplaining when not roller derby-ing in the USA.

  • Caroline Crampton makes the podcast Shedunnit, unravelling the mysteries of classic detective stories. If you’re a fan of the genre, join the new Shedunnit book club. Caroline also writes the daily podcast recommendation newsletter The Listener, thanks to which I’ve discovered lots of shows; and she also writes for Hot Pod, the podcast industry newsletter.

  • This episode was produced by me, Helen Zaltzman. Martin Austwick makes the music that you hear in every episode. Download his songs at

  • Thanks to Eleanor McDowall and Matilda Zaltzman for their production help.

  • Find me online at, and

- HZ

The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX.

In April 2019, the Allusionist is sponsored by: 
• Squarespace, your one-stop shop for creating and running a good-looking and well-working website. Go to for a free trial, and use the code ALLUSION to get 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain.
• Bombas, socks that won’t let you - or themselves - down. Buy your expertly engineered socks at and get 20% off your first purchase.
• Babbel, the app that teaches you a new language with confidence. If you’re in the USA, text ALLUSIONIST to 484848 to try a Babbel lesson for free. Elsewhere? Check out the courses at and on the Babbel app.