The Allusionist

Adventures in language with Helen Zaltzman.

Eine durchschnittliche Folge dieses Podcasts dauert 18m. Bisher sind 157 Folge(n) erschienen. Dieser Podcast erscheint jede zweite Woche.

Gesamtlänge aller Episoden: 2 days 4 hours 59 minutes


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142. Zero

Did any number cause as much trouble as zero? It stranded ships; it scrambles the brains of mathematicians, calendar users and computers; it even got itself banned in Florence. Math(s) communicator and drag queen Kyne explains the Terminator of numbers. Find out more about this episode at And submit requests for words you'd like me to investigate in the next episode at



141. Food Quiz

Quiz time! Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway of Home Cooking podcast join to deliver questions about food etymology, as well as what are the two words that make a dance track, and whether 'za' is an acceptable abbreviation for 'pizza'. Play along and keep track of your score using the interactive scoresheet at For the rest of September 2021, you can stream the London Podfest performance of the new Allusionist live show, full of eponyms, music and planets...



Allusionist 140. Num8er5

We use verbal numbers and we use numerals - why do we need both? Why do we have the ones we have? What happened to Roman numerals? And what's loserish about the fiftieth Super Bowl? Stephen Chrisomalis, professor of anthropology and linguistics and author of the book Reckonings: Numerals, Cognition and History, returns to the Allusionist to explain our current numbers, and why we shouldn't get too arrogant about them. There's more about this episode, and a transcript, at theallusionist...



Tranquillusionist: 282 Salads

This is the Tranquillusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, read all the salads from the 1950 recipe book 282 Ways of Making a Salad, with Favourite Recipes by British and American Personalities and Stars by Bebe Daniels and Jill Algood, with the purpose of giving your internal monologue a break by replacing it with some absolutely inconsequential words. Note: this is NOT the usual Allusionist...


 2021-08-14  34m

139 Ladybird Ladybug

They're not ladies and they're not birds; they're not even technically bugs! But that's not the most surprising thing about ladybirds/ladybugs and their brilliant variety of names. Tamsin Majerus AKA Dr Ladybird explains why ladybirds are so great; and Johanna Mayer and Elah Feder of the podcast Science Diction, about words and the science stories behind them, consider what's in a (ladybird) name...


 2021-07-12  21m

138. Mind My Mind

Crazy, insane, nuts, mad, bonkers, psycho, schizo, OCD - casual vocabulary is strewn with mental health terms, but perhaps shouldn't be? Psychotherapist and podcaster Lily Sloane talks about what we're really saying when we use such words. Content note: in the second half of the show there is some mention of eating disorders. So if that’s not what you need to hear about today, tap out at the ad break. There's more about this episode, and a transcript, at


 2021-06-27  31m

137. Dude

Exclamation; sign of agreement OR disapproval; gendered, but circumstantially gender-neutral; term of endearment: 'dude' can do it all! But its connotations of a laid-back, cool, masculine person are only a few decades old; before that, it uptight city-dwelling tourist?? Dude, seriously! There's more about this episode, and a transcript, at


 2021-06-11  26m

136. Misogynoir

“It's hard to address something if you can't actually name what it is,” says Moya Bailey, who coined a term that enables people to discuss a specific combination of racism and sexism: misogynoir. Find Moya Bailey's work at Her new book is Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women's Digital Resistance.  There's more about this episode, and a transcript, at The music is by Martin Austwick. Hear Martin’s own songs at palebirdmusic...


 2021-05-29  26m

135. SOS

SOS is a really versatile distress call. You can shout it; you can tap it out in Morse code; you can honk it on a horn; you can signal it with flashes of light; you can spell it out on the beach with debris from your wrecked ship. Explaining where SOS came from and what it means are maritime archivist Christian Ostersehlte from the German Maritime Museum, and Paul Tyreman from PK Porthcurno, the Museum of Global Telecommunications...


 2021-05-14  23m

Allusionist: Eclipse+

It’s August 2007. Lauren Marks is a 27-year-old actor and a PhD student, spending the month directing a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She’s in a bar, standing onstage, performing a karaoke duet of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’…and then a blood vessel in her brain bursts. When she wakes up in hospital, days later, she has no internal monologue, and a vocabulary of only about forty words.  This is a rerun of an all time fave Allusionist, but with a few extra little bits added...


 2021-04-23  29m