42 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

    • Science
    • 4.7 • 585 Ratings

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.

    Saying Goodbye To Science Diction

    Saying Goodbye To Science Diction

    Dear Science Diction listeners,

    It is with sadness that we announce the finale of the Science Diction podcast. Starting with a simple newsletter and a passionate audience, the Science Diction podcast grew to serve up episodes on topics as varied as meme, ketchup, and juggernaut. It has been a joy to share these stories with you for the last two years. In celebration of Science Diction, we are sharing with you now a final mini-episode, a look back on this labor of love. You can relisten and read past editions of Science Diction anytime by visiting www.sciencefriday.com/ScienceDiction. If you find yourself longing for more science esoterica, we invite you to join us at our weekly trivia nights. Hosted by Diana Montano and a variety of guest experts, they are a free, and absolutely nerdy, delight.

    On behalf of Johanna, Elah, and everyone that has contributed to making Science Diction, thank you for listening!

    • 3 min
    American Chestnut: Resurrecting A Forest Giant

    American Chestnut: Resurrecting A Forest Giant

    We have a favor to ask! We want to know more about what you like, what you don’t, and who you are—it’ll help us make better episodes of Science Diction. Please, take our brief survey. Thank you!

    At the turn  of the 20th century, the American chestnut towered over other trees in Eastern  forests. The trees would grow as much as 100 feet high, and 13 feet wide. According to legend, a squirrel could scamper from New England to Georgia on the canopies of American chestnuts, never touching the ground.

    And then, the trees began to disappear, succumbing to a mysterious fungus. The fungus first appeared in New York City in 1904—and  then it spread. By the 1950s, the fungus had wiped out billions of trees, and effectively finished off the American chestnut.

    Now, some people are trying to resurrect the American chestnut—and soon. But not everyone thinks that’s a good idea.

    Guests: 
    Sara Fitzsimmons is Director of Restoration, North Central Regional Science Coordinator, and Regional Science Coordinator Supervisor at the American Chestnut Foundation. 

    Susan Freinkel is the author of American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree.

    ​​Neil Patterson Jr. works at the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at SUNY, and is a member of the Tuscarora Nation. 

    Bart Chezar is a chestnut enthusiast, and volunteers with the Prospect Park Alliance.

    Footnotes & Further Reading: 
    Listen to oral histories from people who grew up with the American chestnut.

    Credits:
    This episode of Science Diction was produced by Shahla Farzan and Johanna Mayer. Elah Feder is our Editor and Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer, and they sound designed this episode. Lauren J. Young contributed research, and Danya AbdelHameid fact checked the episode. Our Chief Content Officer is Nadja Oertelt.  

    • 22 min
    Vocal Fry: Why I’m Not Getting A Voice Coach

    Vocal Fry: Why I’m Not Getting A Voice Coach

    For decades, vocal fry lived a relatively quiet existence. It was known to linguists, speech pathologists and voice coaches, but everyday people didn’t pay much attention to it. But then in 2011, people started noticing it everywhere. So what happened? What is vocal fry? Why does host Johanna Mayer use it? What's her problem? And is it really that bad?

    Guest: 
    Lisa Davidson is the chair of the Linguistics Department at NYU.

    Footnotes & Further Reading: 
    Check out this article on young women as linguistic trendsetters. 

    Read the full study from 2011. 

    Learn more about people’s negative reactions to vocal fry.

    Credits: 
    This episode was produced with Kevin McLean, along with Johanna Mayer. Elah Feder is our Editor and Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our Composer, and they sound designed and mastered the episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.

    • 16 min
    Juggernaut: Indian Temple Or Unstoppable Force?

    Juggernaut: Indian Temple Or Unstoppable Force?

    In 2014, a grad student in Kolkata named Ujaan Ghosh came across an old book by a Scottish missionary. And as Ghosh paged through the book, he noticed the missionary kept using a word over and over: Juggernaut. But the missionary wasn’t using it the way we do today—to mean an unstoppable, overwhelming force. He  was using it to talk about a place: a temple in Puri, India. So Ghosh dug further, and as he grasped the real story of where the English word, juggernaut, had come from, he realized there was just no way he could keep using it.

    A transcript of this episode is being processed and will be available within a week.

    Guests: 
    Chris Egusa is an audio producer and 2020 KALW Audio Academy fellow.

    Dylan Thuras is co-founder of Atlas Obscura, and host of the Atlas Obscura podcast.

    Ujaan Ghosh is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Footnotes & Further Reading: 
    Read Ujaan Ghosh’s article on the origins of the word “juggernaut.” 

    Learn more about Jagannath Temple in Atlas Obscura. 

    Listen to more episodes of the Atlas Obscura podcast.

    Credits: 
    This episode was a collaboration between Science Diction and Atlas Obscura. It was produced by Johanna Mayer and Chris Egusa, and edited by Elah Feder and John DeLore. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer, and Danya AbdelHameid fact checked the episode. It was mixed by Luz Fleming.

    • 18 min
    Jargon: We Love To Hate It

    Jargon: We Love To Hate It

    Head on over to plainlanguage.gov, and you’ll find a helpful table, dedicated to simplifying and demystifying military jargon. On one side of the table, there’s the jargon term, and on the other, its plain language equivalent. “Arbitrarily deprive of life”? Actually just means “kill people.” “Render nonviable”? Also means “kill people.” “Terminate with extreme prejudice”? “Kill people.”   

    This table is just one of many resources on plainlanguage.gov—from checklists to plain language training to thesauruses. The website was created by an unfunded government group of plain language activists who make it their mission to translate government communications into regular old, plain language. 

    But jargon isn’t just a government problem. It pops up in nearly every field, and it seems like it annoys most of us. So why do we use it? And is there anything actually good about it?   This episode was inspired by a question from a listener, Jafar, who asked about the word “recrudescence” and why we tend to use fancy words when simple ones would work just fine. If you have a question about a word or phrase, leave us a voicemail! The number is 929-499-WORD, or 929-499-9673. Or, you can always send an email to podcasts@sciencefriday.com. 

    Guests: 
    Joe Kimble is a plain language advocate and professor emeritus at WMU-Cooley Law School.

    David Lipscomb is Director of the Writing Center at Georgetown University, and Vice Chair of the Center for Plain Language.

    Alejandro Martínez García is a researcher at the National Research Council in Italy.

    Footnotes & Further Reading:
    For a challenge, try to explain science using only 1,000 of the most common words. 

    For all your plain language writing needs, take a look at plainlanguage.gov. 

    Learn more about the history of the plain language movement in the United States. 

    Read a study on how our brains react to concrete vs. abstract language.

    Read more about how jargon affects citations in scientific papers.

    Credits: 
    This episode was produced by Johanna Mayer and Senior Producer and Editor Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. Special thanks to Jana Goldman, Bill Lutz, and especially Karen Schriver for background information on the plain language movement.

    • 20 min
    Algebra: From Broken Bones To Twitter Feuds

    Algebra: From Broken Bones To Twitter Feuds

    When high schooler Gracie Cunningham posted a TikTok asking where algebra came from, she probably didn’t expect to become a viral sensation. There were the usual Twitter trolls, but some unexpected voices also began piping up, causing a flurry in the math world.Thank you to Chad, the listener who suggested that we do an episode on algebra. If you have a suggestion for a word or episode, leave us a voicemail. The number is 929-499-WORD, or 929-499-9673. Or, you can always send an email to podcasts@sciencefriday.com.

    Guests: 
    Steven Strogatz is a Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell, and Visiting Professor at National Museum of Mathematics.Eugenia Cheng is a mathematician and Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the author of x + y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender.

    Footnotes & Further Reading: 
    Read Eugenia Cheng’s full response to Gracie. Take a peek at al-Khwarizmi’s The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing.

    Credits: 
    This episode was produced by Johanna Mayer and Lauren Young. Our Editor and Senior Producer is Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt is our Composer. Danya AbdelHameid contributed fact checking. Our Chief Content Officier is Nadja Oertelt. 

    • 14 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
585 Ratings

585 Ratings

Serenity_7 ,

Farewell

I’m so sad you guys are leaving, but I’m glad you’re keeping the episodes here for us to hear again. Thank you for all the fun!

ivory Ivy ,

The pleasures of time well spent

I love the deep dives into topics that are everyday matters but don’t get air time. Each episode is a delving into curious facts, histories, possibilities and interviews and each enlivens my moments the way sneaking in a little browsing in the library does. This is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you so much. Long may your imaginations and endeavors prosper. I look forward to hearing the next episode.

Ccsnguyen ,

I can’t listen to her voice

I very much would like to listen to this podcast. However I cannot stand the valley-girl voice of the host. Please get a new host.

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