To celebrate Pride Month, I’m playing two of the Allusionist episodes that have stuck with me the most during the show’s existence.Read More
Today there’ll be a celebratory parade of language-related facts that you’ve learned from the Allusionist and I’ve learned from making the Allusionist, so some old facts, some new facts - well, the new facts aren’t recently invented facts, they are established facts, just making their Allusionist debut.Read More
HZ: In 1982, Princess Anne, the second child of the Queen of England, Olympic Equestrian, is competing at the Badminton Horse Trials.
PAUL BAKER: She's jumping over all these obstacles and oops, she slips and falls in the water off an obstacle. And all of the photographers rush forward to take a photograph, and she tells them to "naff off". Or "naff orf".
HZ: She's not allowed to drop an F-bomb really, she's a royal.
PAUL BAKER: No, but 'naff' was a Polari word.
HZ: Polari. Just a couple of decades before, it would have been unthinkable that someone like Princess Anne would have used a Polari word, or that she would even have known one.Read More
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.
ROSE EVELETH: I couldn't say this to most people, but you probably understand getting obsessed with a phrase, where you're like, "What is this thing that we say that is weird?" And the one that I've been obsessed with for a while is "The future is now".
ROSE EVELETH: I tend to use it most ironically, where like you see something dumb with technology and you're like "Oh, the future is now!" "Oh, an Internet-connected toaster - the future is now!"
HZ: “Social network for dogs!”
ROSE EVELETH: Exactly. Right. And other people I think use it much more straightforwardly, and much more non-ironically, which is like, "Oh, things are happening so quickly. The future is upon us. Things are changing really rapidly. The future is always happening right in front of us. Technology is amazing." There are two ways to say "the future is now": you can say it optimistically, you could be like, "the future is now! Isn't that cool?" Or you could be like, "the future is now, and we're totally screwed.”
I have a tweetdeck column that is just for that phrase "the future is now", just to watch what people are saying. "School buses with Wi-Fi. The future is now". The U.S. Forest Service,
RACHEL BOTSMAN: I always know when a word is having its moment in the sun when big conferences, it becomes the theme at the conference, or I get slightly nervous when you start to see it as the tag line in really big commercial brands because it's a word that's starting to become co-opted and commercialised, because people go, "Oh, it's resonating with a lot of people.” It's not a brand. Trust isn't a brand that you should use. It's a social glue that when it breaks down, it has really huge consequences to our lives. When terms become so broad that they lose their meaning, they become completely diluted. And this is actually my fear around trust right now, is that it's become the word of the moment that is being used in so many different contexts that are we actually diluting something? One of the most important words we have in the human language, that is so fundamental to our relationships, that are we taking the meaning and importance out of it by its overuse?Read More
HZ: Approximately how many languages have you invented at this point?
DAVID PETERSON: I think I've invented over 50 languages at this point. Not all of them are very large in terms of vocabulary size, and not all of them are very good. I had created about 17 before I ever started working on Game of Thrones.
HZ: The languages you hear in Game of Thrones: Dothraki -
[CLIP] Khal Drogo: “Moon of my life, are you hurt?”
HZ - the various dialects of Valyrian:
CLIP: Daenerys: “Valyrian is my mother tongue.”
HZ: - those aren’t the actors making up some gibberish. Those are functional languages, with large vocabularies and complex grammars and etymologies.Read More
MEGAN JASPER: I was the lucky recipient of a telephone call from the New York Times in the early 90s when they were writing a huge piece on Seattle, and they wanted to focus on the grunge lexicon. They wanted terms and phrases and words that we all used in the music scene; words and phrases that you would only know if you are part of the Seattle music scene.
HZ: On 15 November 1992, the New York Times printed an article entitled ‘Grunge - A Success Story’, about how grunge had become the latest big thing - ‘from subculture to mass culture’, as the article put it. In the preceding couple of years, the Seattle music scene had been co-opted by the mainstream, and by this point, record labels were putting stickers on album covers saying ‘Seattle’; just a couple of weeks before the NYT article, Marc Jacobs caused a stir in the fashion industry when he showed his grunge collection for Perry Ellis, after which he both won an award and was fired; Vogue printed a ‘Grunge & Glory’ fashion spread; and Kurt Cobain was photographed wearing a T-shirt printed with ‘grunge is dead’, in case you were wondering whether everyone was pleased with all these developments. And chasing the zeitgeist before it dipped below the horizon, there was the New York Times.
“When did grunge become grunge?’ the first paragraph went. “How did a five-letter word meaning dirt, filth, trash become synonymous with a musical genre, a fashion statement, a pop phenomenon?”
Immediately, you notice an error: ‘grunge’ is a six-letter word, not a five-letter word. But that’s just your warm-up error; don’t peak too early.
Read on, and there’s a sidebar entitled “Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code”, “coming soon to a high school or mall near you”. And there followed a list of grunge slang terms.
bloated, big bag of bloatation – drunk
bound-and-hagged – staying home on Friday or Saturday night
harsh realm – bummer
plats – platform shoes
score – great
Not familiar with any of these terms? No. Nor was anybody.
MEGAN JASPER: What they didn't realize is that no such language really existed. And so I decided to have a little bit of fun with it.Read More
HZ: A thousand or so years ago, the word ‘gossip’ meant something quite different: a family member. The word broke down to ‘god sibb’, like a godsibling, although then the ‘sibb’ wasn’t necessarily a sibling, was more general, could refer to anyone you were related to. And over the next few hundred years, more specifically, gossips were the close female family and friends who would attend to a woman during labour; she would be sequestered and maybe half a dozen gossips would gather in the room to take care of the mother and help deliver the baby and witness the birth for the purposes of the baby’s baptism - at which these gossips, godsibbs, would be the child’s sponsors. And during these confinements, the women would keep each other company and talk. So you can see how the word would evolve to mean the kind of confidential chat you’d have with someone you’re close to, but by the mid-16th century the word had taken on a bit of a disapproving tone, that the talk was trivial and maybe scurrilous - and female. And these associations persist to this day.
LAINEY LUI: One of my goals as a gossip crusader is to end the pejorative way it's presented in culture, that it's a thing that hens do all around, pecking at each other. It's highly feminized, which is why it's not taken as seriously, when in fact the research shows that we all gossip: it's a human way of communicating.Read More
SUSIE DENT: There never has been a golden age when everything was as it should be ever. Even though we tend to think that English is now at its most dumbed down, always; I think every generation has thought that.Read More
RH: People like words that sound silly. Compound words that have a lot of elements to them, like ‘catawampus’ - people are always going to love ‘catawampus’, and I think it’s just how it sounds, those Lewis Carroll-esque words that are just fun to say. We recently did ‘waffle stompers’, it’s just one of those words that has that je ne sais quoi, so silly you know you’re going to get a rise out of people. In a good way. Waffle stompers are hiking boots. Why would you ever say ‘hiking boots’ again?
JS: We had a lot of cat words.
RH: I don’t know if it was a lot, but we’re not afraid to pander occasionally.
JS: The internet loves cats…
Sometimes the false etymology is so fun, I want to believe it, even though I don’t, as in this request from Gav for the origin of the term “You’re fired” as it relates to employment. One ambitious suggestion is that in the early 20th century, John H Patterson, the founder of the National Cash Register company - which was a big deal in those days - was such a harsh boss, he used to communicate to employees that they were no longer required by taking their desks outside and setting fire to them.Read More
GREG JENNER: Some Victorian Christmas cards were utterly bonkers. My favourite one just had some bacon attached to it. There’s another one which had a dead mouse on the front. My favourite was a policeman being attacked by a clown with a red hot poker. Another is some children at their parents’ funeral. Classic Christmas fare! There’s one with two children being attacked by a giant wasp…Read More
JW: László Bíró would hear people say the ballpoint was ruining writing skills, and he’d smile and say, “Well, if writing comes from the heart, if we can help the hand to perform the hand to perform the task, what’s so wrong with that?” And I think there’s nothing wrong with that. Well done László Bíró.
HZ: I think it’s also interesting that Bíró and Bic's names are on products that are hugely successful, but rarely the centre of attention - and also disposable.
JW: Yeah. And also they are kind of disposable, in that you can know what a Bic or a Biro is, but you don’t need to know who Marcel is or who László is. They’ve made this disposable contribution to history, and in the same way made themselves disposable.