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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
It’s Friday night. I’m in a church hall in the small town of Gaiman in Argentina, about 1200km south of Buenos Aires, watching a concert in which locals are singing songs in Welsh. Three thoughts are rotating in my mind:
1. These people are REALLY good singers;
2. If I die here, people are going to think, “What on earth was she was doing in a church hall in a tiny town in rural Argentina?”
3. We are 12,000 km from Wales. The Welsh language is not widespread. Why are there people speaking Welsh in Argentina?
HZ: There are several Sohos around the world: as well as that New York one, there’s one in Tampa, Florida, short for South Howard Avenue; the entertainment district in Hong Kong is another acraname, from South of Hollywood Road.
I think if you break down these acranames into their original components, they’re weak, aren’t they? Not particularly distinctive words or places. I put it to you that they are backranames - local features are backwards-engineered to fit a snappy name, already familiar from the first known Soho, here in London.
TONY SHRIMPLIN: It’s like all roads lead to Rome: all roads lead to Soho. It has this very special place. It’s the centre and heart of London. It’s a microcosm of the world, concentrated into ¾ of a square mile.Read More
FB: In the beginning, lonely hearts ads were pretty simple. A man wanted a woman who was young, and ideally had some money. A woman wanted a man who had some money, and that was it.
Lots of the language men will use in their ads is just different ways of saying ‘fertile’. They’ll say healthy, glowing, young - and a lot of the language women use is different ways of saying ‘has money to support offspring’.
For so many centuries, marriage had just been a business transaction. There was one in the Dorset County Chronicle in 1824 that said, “I want a woman to look after the pigs while I’m at work.”
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