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Optimal Allusions

I love podcasts. Without exaggeration, I owe so much of my growth as a person and where my life is right now to podcasts and podcasting. I’ll get into that in the future, after testing the water with a podcast related post. Sohmer is still not convinced podcasts exist, so this will field test bringing them up in this space to see if it flies below his radar.

I also love English. Growing up as an anglo-Quebecer, there’s a certain cultural expectation for me to be defensive about my native tongue, but I go far beyond that. I love word origins, I love twisting sentences and swapping similar words around for layered effects. The fact that I can say something and get two simultaneous, contradictory reactions from someone (usually laughter and rage) pleases me to no end.

My two loves combined when I was recommended The Allusionist, a podcast about language by Helen Zaltzman.

Do you want to know how much I love this podcast? The first episode is about how much the host hates puns. Not only are puns the reason for the majority of the conflicting reactions I referenced above, they are as much or greater part of my identity as t-shirts, comics, cartoons, and my children. If someone beats me to a pun, they wear it like a badge of honour. If I miss a few too many puns in a row, people ask me if I’m feeling OK. If I say something with a certain smile, my friends know to pause the conversation and reconsider other ways what I just said could be taken.

And yet, Helen Zaltzman hates puns. And yet2, I love her podcast.

During her episode on puns, she transitions from the Chinese government’s ban of puns might be for the best because people tend to choose wordplay instead of exploring their feelings when they communicate to how puns are synonymous with the humour of fathers. It got me wondering if there is a connection, if “dad jokes” are how men -who are sociologically rewarded for minimizing emotional reactions- coping with the influx of complex fatherhood emotions they don’t know how to express? Are puns how dads say “I love you, even though I must not let those feelings interfere with my role as your safety and ethics guide”?

Because I was able to power through that first episode (evening flexing my brain when I thought I’d just listen to the whole episode with my arms crossed, the safety of the other drivers be damned), I have learned so many of my favourite etymology lessons. For example:

A mountweazel is a word added to a dictionary to catch other dictionary publishers plagiarizing.

Debate comes from the French de battaile, or to fight. Likewise, party comes from the French parti, as in to go somewhere (such as to war) and campaign comes from the French champaign, as in a field (like where battles were traditionally fought).

The prefix step comes from the German stiefkind, meaning a grieving child. Its original meaning was close to orphan, because it meant a child who lost a parent. Because stepchildren tended to get non-biological parents, and etymology likes nothing more than finding words for ideas we already have definitions for, words for stepparents grew from that.

If you love podcasts and English etymology as much as I do, I recommended The Allusionist, even if you also love puns as much as I do.

And If You Love Bargains

You know that big Blind Ferret Shop sale I’ve been alluding to? It’s on! Check it out now to find incredible discounts of basically every product in the store. $5 books, $5 shirts, $5 games. It’s a great time to be an LICD fan, or to have an LICD fan on your Christmas list.