Podcasts of the Week Ending December 7

99% Invisible :: The Infantorium

Disneyland and Epcot are famous for demonstrating technology in order to provide a vision of the future.  But in the early 1900s the technology at American amusement parks and carnivals was incubators for premature babies.  This podcast explains how it came to be that parents of premature babies had to bring their children to amusement parks rather than hospitals.

Futility Closet :: A Kidnapped Painting

The story of the theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery is unexpectedly amusing.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Historically Speaking

The history of language and how it shapes cultures and individual identities.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week for Two Weeks Ending May 19

I’m not doing well at getting these podcast recommendations up every week, but here’s a good crop of podcast for your listening pleasure.

HUB History :: The Battle of Jamaica Plain

There was a gang shootout right here in my own neighborhood over a 100 years ago that had international implications and ended up involving Winston Churchill, and I’d never heard of it?!?

Hidden Brain :: Baby Talk: Decoding the Secret Language of Babies

It’s been a long while since I’ve had a nice chat with a baby.

Planet Money :: The Land of Duty Free

The mass quantities of liquor, cigarettes, chocolate, and perfume sold in airports has always fascinated/perplexed me.  Here’s the story of how the duty free shop got started at Shannon Airport in Ireland.  It also confirms my suspicions that duty free shop purchases aren’t really bargains.

LeVar Burton Reads :: “As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders

A live performance of LeVar Burton reading a hillarious/poignant story about a worldwide apocalypse, a genie in a bottle, theater criticism,  and the nature of wishes, complete with an interview with the author

BackStory :: Shock of the New

The history of World’s Fairs fascinates me and this episode commemorates the 125th anniversary of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, with special focus on women’s and African American perspectives on the fair.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Cherokee Story Slam

The stories and life of the talented Robert Lewis.

More or Less: Behind the Stats :: Tulipmania mythology

The Dutch tulip bubble always makes a good story about economics and finance, but the truth of the story is not as dramatic as the myths, albeit more interesting in many ways.


Book Review: Origins of the specious by Patricia T. O’Conner

Author: Patricia T. O’Conner
Title: Origins of the specious : myths and misconceptions of the English language
Publication Info: New York : Random House, c2009.
ISBN: 9781400066605

Summary/Review:  This is a great book about all those rules about English grammar, pronunciation and etymology.  Many of them are based on false premises such as 19th-century Latinists trying to make English fit the rules of Latin grammar.  Others thought to be long-time steadfast rules are actually recent innovations.  So go ahead and use “they” for both singular and plural just the same way we use “you.” If your pedant friend insists on Latin plurals for certain words tell them there’s a long history for “octopuses,” “stadiums,” and “forums” and that they’re perfectly acceptable.  And start a sentence with a conjunction, there’s no reason not to.   Nor is there any reason for not to boldly split those infinitives.  The best part of this book is that it recognizes the evolutionary and crowd-sourced aspect of language that is always changing.  It’s a democracy where everyone has but one vote and what is correct is what is best understood.  As O’Conner puts it “It’s better to be understood than to be correct.”

Recommended booksEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, and Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z by David Sacks

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Language Visible by David Sacks

Language visible : unraveling the mystery of the alphabet from A to Z (2003) by David Sacks is a lively history of each letter in our modern alphabet (called the “Roman alphabet” which is explained in the book). For each letter Sacks traces the history of its shape from the ancient Semitic carvings in the Egyptian desert to Phoenician and Hebrew letters to Greek, Etruscan, and Roman alphabets to Old English and medieval Romance languages to minuscule characters of monastic scriptoriums and the first printed letters and finally our alphabet today. Some changes in the alphabet are surprisingly recent. J, V, and W are all relatively young letters. Noah Webster had an inordinate influence in setting apart American letters from European.

For each letter, Sacks also traces the changes in the sound the letter represents. If there’s one thing you learn from this book it’s that while many languages share the same alphabet there’s absolutely no consistency in what sounds the letters stand for and sometimes they’re somewhat arbitrarily assigned. Sacks also writes about the social and cultural significance of each letter which is the most fun aspect of the book. For example, he relates one of my favorite stories about how George Bernard Shaw suggested spelling the word “fish” as ghoti, that is the “gh” of rough, the “o” of women, and the “ti” of station. Ghoti would make a great band name by the way and you wouldn’t even be able to be sued for copyright infringement by a Vermont jam band. Sacks also explains how the Anglo-Saxon letter thorn for the “th” sound was represented by the letter Y. This is why someone 200-years ago would write “Ye Olde Tavern” and pronounce “ye” as “the.”

This is a good read – both fun and educational.