15 episodes

What does the word “meme” have to do with evolutionary biology? And why do we call it “Spanish flu” when it was never Spanish? Science Diction is a podcast about words—and the science stories within them. If you like your language with a side of science, Science Diction has you covered. Brought to you by Science Friday and WNYC Studios.

Science Diction Science Friday and WNYC Studios

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What does the word “meme” have to do with evolutionary biology? And why do we call it “Spanish flu” when it was never Spanish? Science Diction is a podcast about words—and the science stories within them. If you like your language with a side of science, Science Diction has you covered. Brought to you by Science Friday and WNYC Studios.

    Hydrox: How A Cookie Got A Name So Bad

    Hydrox: How A Cookie Got A Name So Bad

    The first Oreo rolled out of Chelsea Market in Manhattan in 1912, but despite the cookie’s popularity today, Oreos weren’t an immediate cookie smash hit. In fact, there was already another cookie on the block that looked remarkably similar to Oreos: two chocolate wafers embossed with laurel leaves, and white cream in the center. This cookie was widely loved, made with the highest quality ingredients, and saddled with a curious name: Hydrox.

    So how did a cookie get a name so bad? Producer Alexa Lim takes us all the way back to the early 1900s, and brings us a story of the rise - and the crumble - of a cookie named Hydrox.

     

    Guests: 
    Carolyn Burns is the owner of The Insight Connection, and a former marketing director for Keebler.

    Stella Parks is a pastry chef and the author of Brave Tart: Iconic American Desserts.

    Ellia Kassoff is the CEO of Leaf Brands.

    Footnotes & Further Reading: 
    For more Hydrox history, check out Brave Tart by Stella Parks.

    Can’t get enough Hydrox? This is a fun website.

    Credits: 
    This episode of Science Diction was produced by Alexa Lim, Elah Feder, and Johanna Mayer. Our editor is Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer and contributed sound design. Fact checking by Danya AbdelHameid. Chris Wood mastered the episode. Our Chief Content Officer is Nadja Oertelt. 

    • 19 min
    How Did The ‘Cosmic Crisp’ Apple Get Its Name?

    How Did The ‘Cosmic Crisp’ Apple Get Its Name?

    This fall, there’s a new apple all around town. After 20 years of development, the Cosmic Crisp has landed.

    In this episode, we’re bringing you a special collaboration with another podcast called The Sporkful. They’re a James Beard Award-winning show that uses food as a lens to talk about science, history, race, culture, and the ideal way to layer the components of a PB&J. 

    This episode is all about the Cosmic Crisp, how scientists developed it, and how it got that dazzling name.

    Guests: 
    Helen Zaltzman is the host of The Allusionist podcast. 

    Dan Charles is a food and agriculture reporter at NPR. 

    Kate Evans is a horticulturist and the leader of the pome fruit breeding program at Washington State University.

    Kathryn Grandy is Chief Marketing Officer for Proprietary Variety Management.

    Footnotes & Further Reading: 
    For more episodes, subscribe to The Sporkful podcast.

    Credits: 
    The Sporkful is produced by Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Jared O'Connell and Harry Huggins.

    • 33 min
    Restaurant: How It All Began

    Restaurant: How It All Began

    In the 1760s, a new kind of establishment started popping up in Paris, catering to the French and fancy. These places had tables, menus, and servers. They even called themselves “restaurants,” and you might have too, were it not for one key difference: these restaurants were places you went not to eat. Well, not to chew anyway. Because they weren’t in the business of feeding their genteel clientele, but of soothing their frayed nerves —with premium medicinal soups. Soups which were also called “restaurants”!

    In this episode: How restaurants evolved from a soup to a chic Parisian soup spa to the diverse, loved—and sorely missed—solid food eateries of today.

    Guests: 
    Rebecca Spang is a professor of history at Indiana University.

    Stephani Robson is senior lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.

    Footnotes & Further Reading: 
    For more on early bouillon-sipping establishments and the rise of restaurants, take a peek at Rebecca Spang’s book, The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture. 

    Still can’t get enough restaurant history? Check out Dining Out: A Global History of Restaurants.

    If you, like Stephani Robson, are passionate about optimal chair spacing, check out one of her studies on the subject. 

    To see some of Stephani’s work in action, listen to this collaborative episode from Planet Money and The Sporkful, on “The Great Data-Driven Restaurant Makeover.”

    Credits: 
    Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Elah Feder is our editor and producer. We had story editing from Nathan Tobey. Daniel Peterschmidt contributed sound design and wrote all our music, except the accordion piece which was by Dana Boulé and the final piece by Jazz at the Mladost Club. We had research help from Cosmo Bjorkenheim. Chris Wood mastered the episode, and we had fact checking by Michelle Harris. Special thanks to Gregg Rapp for talking to us about menu engineering. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.

    • 17 min
    Umami: A Century Of Disbelief

    Umami: A Century Of Disbelief

    Salty, sweet, sour, bitter. Scientists once thought these were the only tastes, but in the early 20th century, a Japanese chemist dissected his favorite kombu broth and discovered one more: umami. In recent years, umami has become a foodie buzzword, but for nearly a century, the Western world was in full-blown umami denial—didn’t believe it existed. And we might have stayed that way if it weren’t for our most notorious and potent source of umami: MSG.

     



    A 1930s advertisement for Ajinomoto.
    (Courtesy of the Science History Institute.)


     



    Advertising brochure from the late 1940s until the early 1950s for Ac'cent, an MSG product manufactured by the International Minerals & Chemical Corporation.
    (Courtesy of the Science History Institute.)


     



    Kikunae Ikeda, who proposed the idea of umami as a fifth basic taste.
    (Wikimedia Commons)


     
    Guest: 
    Nirupa Chaudhari is a professor of physiology & biophysics at the University of Miami.

    Kumiko Ninomiya is the director of the Umami Information Center. 

    Footnotes & Further Reading: 
    Special thanks to Sarah Tracy for some background on MSG in the United States.

    Read a translation of Kikunae Ikeda's original manuscript in Journal of the Chemical Society of Tokyo.

    "A Short History Of MSG" discusses Ajinomoto's marketing techniques, as well as reception of MSG in the United States and around the globe. 

    If you're dying to see the Mr. Umami video mentioned in this story, watch it here.

    Hear more chefs gushing over umami at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. 

    Credits: 
    Science Diction is hosted and produced by  Johanna Mayer. Elah Feder is our editor and producer. Nathan Tobey contributed story editing, and Kaitlyn Schwalje contributed writing and research. Thanks also to Lauren J. Young and Attabey Rodríguez Benítez for research help. Our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and they also did sound design. Chris Wood mastered this episode. We had fact checking from Michelle Harris. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.

    • 20 min
    Guest Episode: Communal Eating With ‘Gastropod’

    Guest Episode: Communal Eating With ‘Gastropod’

    This week, we’re sharing an episode from an excellent food podcast, Gastropod. This show is right up our alley—co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley serve up episodes that “look at food through the lens of science and history.” What’s not to love? This episode looks at something we’re all missing a lot these days: communal eating. 

    We love eating dinner together with friends and extended family, and we miss it! But why does sharing a meal mean so much—and can we ever recreate that on Zoom? As we wait for the dinner parties, cookouts, and potlucks of our post-pandemic future, join us as we explore the science and history of communal dining.

    Scientist Ayelet Fishbach shares how and why eating together makes us better able to work together, and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar and archaeologist Brian Hayden demonstrate how it actually made us human—and led to everything from the common cow to the pyramids. Plus, we join food writers Nichola Fletcher and Samin Nosrat for the largest in-person banquet of all time, with Parisian waiters on bicycles, as well as the world’s biggest online lasagna party.

    Guests: 
    Samin Nosrat is a chef, teacher and author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

    Ayelet Fishbach is professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago.

    Robin Dunbar is a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford.

    Brian Hayden is an archaeologist and emeritus professor at Simon Fraser University.

    Nichola Fletcher is a food writer in Scotland and author of the book Charlemagne’s Tablecloth: A Piquant History of Feasting.

    Alice Julier is a sociologist who writes about inequality, food, and everyday life. 

    Footnotes & Further Reading: 
    Listen to more Gastropod here.

    Credits: 
    This episode of Gastropod was produced by Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley. 

    • 41 min
    Rocky Road: Why It Sounds So Dang Delicious

    Rocky Road: Why It Sounds So Dang Delicious

    Rocky Road is just a good name for an ice cream flavor. So good, in fact, that two ice cream institutions have dueling claims to Rocky Road’s invention. It’s a story of alleged confessions and a whole lot of ice cream-fueled drama. If it were just the flavor that made Rocky Road so special, every company could have just made their own concoction of nuts, chocolate, and marshmallows, named it “Muddy Street” or “Pebble Lane,” and called it a day. But there’s a linguistic reason why Rocky Road just sounds so dang delicious—and it’s studied by linguists and marketers alike.



    Fenton's Creamery in Oakland, California, one of the institutions that lays claim to inventing Rocky Road.
    (Wikimedia Commons)


     


     

    In this episode, we mention the Bouba Kiki Effect. Imagine two shapes: One is a pointy, jagged polygon, the other an ameboid-like splotch. Which shape would you name “Bouba,” and which would you name “Kiki?” In study after study, 90% of people agree—the pointy shape is “Kiki” and the rounded shape is “Bouba.” This so-called “Bouba-Kiki Effect” holds in many languages, and has even been demonstrated with toddlers. But why the near-universal agreement? Cognitive psychologists like Kelly McCormick have several theories. Watch this Science Friday video to learn more. 

     

    Guest: 
    Alissa Greenberg is a freelance journalist. 

    Dan Jurafsky is a professor of linguistics at Stanford, and the author of The Language of Food. 

    Will Leben is professor emeritus of linguistics at Stanford, and is the former director of linguistics at Lexicon Branding. 

    Footnotes And Further Reading: 
    Read Alissa Greenberg’s full (highly entertaining) story of the history of Rocky Road ice cream. 

    The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky is a word nerd’s dream, and contains more about his experiment on cracker and ice cream brand names. 

    Credits:
    Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Our editor and producer is Elah Feder. We had additional story editing from Nathan Tobey. Fact checking by Michelle Harris, with help from Danya AbdelHameid. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Sound design and mastering by Chris Wood. Our Chief Content Officer is Nadja Oertelt. 

    • 17 min

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