Today’s episode is the annual bonus Allusionist, featuring outtakes from some of this year’s guests saying things that were not necessarily related to the topic of the original episode, or even related to language at all, but I thought, “Hmm! Interesting!” and filed them away until THIS MOMENT.
This is not a typical episode of the Allusionist, so if this is your first time here, welcome! And do try a few different episodes of the show to get a picture. This year there have been episodes about your names, and superhero names; about how swearing can be good for your health, and so can novels; about tattoos, and typing champions; about how the drive to survive sent the Welsh language across an ocean, and the Scots language to hide at home; and many more. Thanks so much for spending time with me over 2018.Read More
JIM GLAUB: To be honest, these letters have been coming in as long as I've lived in that Chelsea apartment. And even before that, the gentleman that lived before us had been getting the letters, only about four or five a year. And then they had told me that the guys before them had been getting the letters.
HZ: This is Jim Glaub. He and his husband Dylan Parker were living in an apartment on West 22nd St in Manhattan. And every year, these letters would arrive there, addressed... to Santa.Read More
The Guinness world record for typing speed was held by the late Barbara Blackburn. There are two kinds of typing contests: sprints, and marathons. And Barbara was a champion of both: During minute-long speed tests, Barbara could type up to 170 wpm on typewriter or, on a computer, 212 words per minute.
MARTIN AUSTWICK: 212 words per minute
HZ: And in endurance tests she could type 150wpm for 50 minutes.
MARTIN AUSTWICK: 150 words per minute, for 50 minutes
HZ: To show off her world record-breaking achievement, in 1985 Barbara was invited onto the David Letterman show, to race against the fastest typist on Letterman show staff - also called Barbara. But Barbara Blackburn sabotaged the contest.Read More
I changed my name because my parents spelled it wrong.
Why did I change my name? I didn't like it!
I have legally changed my name twice now, first and last. My parents tell this cute story about choosing my name the night before I was born. But as I was growing up, it was one of the most common names for female dogs.
I found out when I was about 12 that I was actually named for an actress that my dad had had a crush on when he was a kid, so I thought that was a bit weird and I didn't really want to hang on to that.
When I was born my parents could not agree on a name for me, and on their last day in the hospital after I was born they were watching the news and there was a missing children's report on the TV with a little girl named Ashleigh, and I was named after her.
Choosing a new name allowed me to drop a lot of the old baggage with the old identity without feeling as though I were betraying it.Read More
JÓN GNARR: I had a daughter in 92, and she was named Camilla after her grandmother, it was Camilla with a C, spelled with a C. And so when I got the confirmation note from the National Registry, where they tell you that your child is now named something in the registry, they had spelled her name with a K. It's confirmed that the child Kamilla Jónssdóttir, blah blah blah. And I called them, because it was spelled with a C, and I just wanted to tell them it was a misunderstanding, my daughter's name is spelled with a C and she said yeah, wait, and I waited on the line and then she came back and she said no, it's no misunderstanding: C has been banned in the Icelandic alphabet.
HZ: C has been banned??
JÓN GNARR: C was banned. Yeah.
DUANA TAHA: People's issues with the names they choose for their children, and even their own names, are almost never resolved. People don't talk about them. It's the word that you use the most often and the soonest to describe yourself, and yet nobody's really ever talked about how it makes me feel like this.Read More
HZ: Thirteen or so years ago, I met a friend at a pub, and she had someone with her who had a tattoo on her elbow of the word ‘cuticles,’. An unusual word to see as a tattoo - unlikely to be the name of a loved one or a birthplace or something. And also it wasn’t just the word ‘cuticles’, it was ‘cuticles’ followed by a comma.
SHELLEY JACKSON: With a piece of punctuation attached, you can really tell that it must be part of something else.
HZ: She was part of something else: The Skin Project, a story, 2095 words long, and each word tattooed on a person.Read More
ROSS SUTHERLAND: We're taught from a young age to be good sports at losing games. Sportsmanship as a concept is all about being a good loser. And yet we're terrified of the concept of losing art. It's a horrible thing to try and to put yourself out there and for it to fail. So if you can reframe it as a game then all the better.
HZ: Because if you fail again you've just failed at the game and not at art entirely.
ROSS SUTHERLAND: Yeah, exactly. You fail at the game, but then you can play again. it's less of a referendum on your own self-worth if you just lose a game, because we play games all the time and so we're very comfortable with our odds. Whereas I feel when it when it comes to art the odds feel a little bit more important, and they shouldn't.Read More
TIGER WEBB: The broad thing about having unusual name is that it's a pretty effective substitute for an actual personality. I never had to develop one, because you could just do anything and people assume you’re interesting, or that there is some sort of grandiosity behind it.
HZ: Very colourful character.
TIGER WEBB: I'm really very boring and quiet. And the fact that I'm called Tiger I think does a lot to mask that. "Oh wow. Tiger, yeah, interesting fellow." I'm not though. But feel free to think that
When you’re not feeling well, which books do you turn to to make yourself feel better?
I asked this question on the Allusionist Facebook and Twitter, and hundreds of you responded, but a few answers came up again and again:
Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, JRR Tolkien.
Makes sense. Science fiction, fantasy: what’s more escapist?
Jane Austen. PG Wodehouse.
Also escapist, thanks to period setting - and, rich people problems not health problems.
Things you read when you were a child: Moomins, What Katy Did, Anne of Green Gables…
Taking you back to a time in your life that perhaps felt safer, or simpler...
Boarding school shenanigans! Wizard problems not real life problems!
And, Agatha Christie.
Poison! Gunshots! Stabbing! Hang on, why would stories about murder make us feel better?
Well, they’re kind of supposed to make you feel better.Read More
NATE BYRNE: One of the things I find really strange when it comes to the weather is that we're all experts and all idiots at the same time.
HZ: You’re supposed to be the expert though.
NATE BYRNE: Right. Yeah! But I mean, we all live in it every day and we all feel like we understand the weather really well and we hear weather reports every single day. Now, if you are practicing a skill every day, on average you're generally excellent at it; that’s a real strength of yours. But it turns out that meteorologists typically haven't been very good at telling people what it is they're trying to tell them. So showers, just for example, means the rain's going to start and stop and start and stop; it doesn't tell you anything about the volume. Rain means it's just going to be continuous, and again doesn't tell you anything about the volume; but we have built, somehow, cultural expectations and understandings that go with those words that the scientists don't actually mean when they're using those words and it makes a really tricky job.
AMY SUEYOSHI: I see 'queer' as an umbrella term, as a political call for revolution as well as unity across different groups of people.
JONATHAN VAN NESS: I think of it definitely with positive and loving energy around it, I don’t think of it as an insult at all; growing up, I would have thought of it more as an insult. I think it was in 2015 when we got marriage equality, and the media, especially the LGBTQ+ media, began to use it as an umbrella term, something we could all be part of. So I think I got the cue from media to know that it was a gorgeous amazing word, one where we’re taking the love back and it wasn’t one to be offended by any more.
KATIE MINGLE: I haven’t always loved the term for myself, because it feels like an umbrella term that you can use if you’re gay and in a relationship with someone of the same sex, or you can use if you’re a basically straight couple who occasionally has a threesome with someone. That’s what ‘queer’ has come to mean: anyone who’s not inside the norm.
AMY SUEYOSHI: I think it's rejecting things like patriarchy and heteronormativity, mandates of morality. So not just to be able to keep things gray or to be postmodern, post category, but instead rather to call for a true revolution of the way we see the world, the way we categorize the world. So it's not just about LGBT rights per se but it's about creating a world that's more respectful of equity and thinks about diversity as a plus and values different ideas as a side of radical change rather than fear.
KATIE HERZOG: I sort of hate it. It’s too broad.
TOBIN LOW: It's so useful. I mean especially as there is this proliferation of identities that people can call themselves and identify with and really claim, it's a great way of just sort of acknowledging that it's all in the umbrella and that it's all valid; it's just like a way of acknowledging the validity of all the things, which I think is great.
ERIC MARCUS: This word has tortured me.Read More
ISHBEL McFARLANE: I remember speaking to a friend of mine and saying, "I used to have another language, I used to be able to speak another language." And she was like, “Speak it then.” And I remember not having anything, I couldn't say anything.
HZ: This is Ishbel McFarlane, a theatre maker and campaigner for the Scots language. Although for many years of her life, she did not want anything to do with the Scots language at all.
ISHBEL McFARLANE: So my mum and dad deliberately brought me up speaking Scots when I was wee, partly because they both grew up in moderately complicated but Scots language environments, and they were themselves Scots language campaigners, and so they really wanted me to have access to it. So that would be my sort of home language. But then because of a whole load of reasons, centrally that it's not seen as a language by many people, I wasn't allowed to use it at primary school or at nursery or playgroup or even when I was with my friends and their parents.
MICHAEL DEMPSTER: There's no name for our language, apart from "Shut up" or "don't talk like that".Read More
I’ve been working on this mini series of episodes about minority languages and the threats they face and how they survive. Last episode, Welsh speakers took the drastic step of migrating to Argentina. But in researching it all, I keep referring back to a pair of Allusionists from a while ago: The Key. Part one, Rosetta, was about how a language survives in a physical form when its humans die, featuring the smash hit archaeological object the Rosetta Stone, and its namesake the Rosetta Disk, the linguistic key to the future. Part two is about how to decipher a dead language and why it might have died.Read More