Science Diction

By Science Friday and WNYC Studios

Listen to a podcast, please open Podcast Republic app. Available on Google Play Store.


Category: Science

Open in Apple Podcasts


Open RSS feed


Open Website


Rate for this podcast

Subscribers: 419
Reviews: 3


 Sep 20, 2020

María Elena Díaz
 Mar 11, 2020
so far so good!

vj
 Mar 11, 2020
Great podcast!

Description

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.

Episode Date
Hydrox: How A Cookie Got A Name So Bad
19:57

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.


The transcript for this episode is being processed. It will be posted within one week after it airs.

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. 

Oct 16, 2020
How Did The ‘Cosmic Crisp’ Apple Get Its Name?
33:20

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.

Sep 22, 2020
Restaurant: How It All Began
17:13

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.

The transcript for this episode is being processed. It will be posted within one week after it airs. 

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.

Aug 25, 2020
Umami: A Century Of Disbelief
20:56

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.

The transcript for this episode is being processed. It will be posted within one week after it airs. 

 

 

 

 

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: 

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 mention 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. Special thanks to Sarah Tracy for some background on MSG in the United States. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.

Aug 18, 2020
Guest Episode: Communal Eating With ‘Gastropod’
41:27

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. 

Aug 11, 2020
Rocky Road: Why It Sounds So Dang Delicious
17:53

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.

 


 

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. 

Aug 04, 2020
Ketchup: A Fishy History
17:53

At the turn of the 20th century, 12 young men sat in the basement of the Department of Agriculture, eating meals with a side of borax, salicylic acid, or formaldehyde. They were called the Poison Squad, and they were part of a government experiment to figure out whether popular food additives were safe. (Spoiler: Many weren’t.) Food manufacturers weren’t pleased with the findings, but one prominent ketchup maker paid attention. Influenced by these experiments, he transformed ketchup into the all-American condiment that we know and love today. Except ketchup—both the sauce and the word—didn't come from the United States. The story of America’s favorite condiment begins in East Asia.

Guest

Alan Lee is a freelance linguist and native Hokkien speaker. 

Footnotes And Further Reading

The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum tells the very entertaining history of Harvey Wiley, the early days of food regulation in the United States, and, of course, the Poison Squad.

The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky is a word nerd’s dream, and contains more on ketchup’s early history. Special thanks to Dan Jurafsky for providing background information on the early history of ketchup for this episode. 

Can't get enough ketchup history? Check out Pure Ketchup: A History of America's National Condiment With Recipes by Andrew F. Smith.

Learn more about ketchup's early origins in Dan Jurafsky's Slate article on "The Cosmopolitan Condiment." 

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. Our Chief Content Office is Nadja Oertelt. Fact checking by Michelle Harris, with help from Danya AbdelHameid. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer, and they wrote our version of the “Song of the Poison Squad.” We had research help from Cosmo Bjorkenheim and Attabey Rodríguez Benítez. Sound design and mastering by Chris Wood.

Jul 28, 2020
Science Diction Digs Into Food
1:43

We’ve all been thinking about food a lot lately. Whether you’re on the sourdough starter train, treating yourself to takeout, or you finally have the time to cook your way through a book of family recipes, food feels omnipresent these days.

So, for the next few weeks at Science Diction, we are all about the science, language, and history of food! If you like your meal with a sprinkle of etymology, a dash of history, and a side of science, these episodes of Science Diction will hit the spot. Here's a sneak peek!

Jul 23, 2020
Spanish Flu
16:03

In the fall of 1918, people in Philadelphia were beginning to talk about a new virus that was snaking through the city. But the facts and scope were muddy and uncertain—and the city decided to push forward with a highly-anticipated parade. About 200,000 people showed up for the parade, and packed onto sidewalks.

Halfway across the country, St. Louis, Missouri looked very different in the fall of 1918. Businesses shuttered, movie theaters went dark, and students stayed home. 

Just like today, cities across the U.S. responded to the 1918 influenza pandemic differently. And just like how Donald Trump initially referred to coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” the “Spanish flu” is also a misnomer that’s endured for centuries—the 1918 flu wasn’t Spanish at all.

Footnotes And Further Reading: 

Special thanks to Alan Kraut for his work on “Immigration, Ethnicity, and the Pandemic,” and to Chris Naffzinger, for his reporting on St. Louis’ response to the 1918 pandemic.

For this story, we read many old articles from newspapers across the country, all archived on newspapers.com.

The CDC’s Pandemic Influenza Storybook paints a vivid picture of life during the pandemic.

We first learned about Philadelphia’s Liberty Loan Parade from the Washington Post’s reporting.

Credits: 

Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Our producer and editor is Elah Feder. We had additional story editing from Nathan Tobey, and fact checking help from Michelle Harris. Our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt.

Apr 28, 2020
Quarantine
16:16

Quarantine has been on many of our minds lately. The phrases “shelter in place” and “self-quarantine” have filled up our news, social media, and conversations since the first inklings of the coronavirus pandemic. But this is far from the first time cities and countries have used the practice of physical separation to battle the spread of disease. 

You might think of Mary Mallon, who many know as “Typhoid Mary.” In the early 1900s, she spent nearly 30 years  in a cottage on a small island in New York City’s East River, all to prevent her from infecting others. But we’ve been using quarantine for millennia—well before we even understood germs existed and that they can be transmitted from person-to-person. And the origin of the word stretches all the way back to the mid-14th century, when Europe was swept by one of the biggest losses of human life in history: the Black Death.

Want to stay up to speed with Science Diction? Sign up for our newsletter.

Guest:

Alexander More is a historian at Harvard University and Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Footnotes And Further Reading: 

Special thanks to Alexander More, Judith Walzer Leavitt, and Karl Appuhn.

If you want to learn more about Mary Mallon, we recommend Judith’s book, Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health.

Credits:

Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Our producer and editor is Elah Feder. We had additional story editing from Nathan Tobey, and fact checking help from Michelle Harris. Our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt. Charles Bergquist played the part of George Soper.

Apr 07, 2020
Cobalt
16:43

Cobalt has been hoodwinking people since the day it was pried from the earth. Named after a pesky spirit from German folklore, trickery is embedded in its name.  

In 1940s Netherlands, cobalt lived up to its name in a big way, playing a starring role in one of the most embarrassing art swindles of the 19th century. It’s a story of duped Nazis, a shocking court testimony, and one fateful mistake.

Want to stay up to speed with Science Diction? Sign up for our newsletter.

Guest: 

Kassia St. Clair is a writer and cultural historian based in London.

Footnotes And Further Reading: 

For fascinating histories on every color you can imagine, read Kassia St. Clair’s The Secret Lives of Color.

Thanks to Jennifer Culver for background information on the kobold.

Read more about Han van Meegeren in The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick and in the 2009 series “Bamboozling Ourselves” in the New York Times.

Credits: 

Science Diction is written and produced by Johanna Mayer, with production and editing help from Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, with story editing help from Nathan Tobey. Our theme song and music are by Daniel Peterschmidt. We had fact-checking help from Michelle Harris, and mixing help from Kaitlyn Schwalje. Special thanks to the entire Science Friday staff.

Mar 10, 2020
Dinosaur
11:54

At the turn of the 19th century, Britons would stroll along the Yorkshire Coast, stumbling across unfathomably big bones. These mysterious fossils were all but tumbling out of the cliffside, but people had no idea what to call them. There wasn’t a name for this new class of creatures. 

Until Richard Owen came along. Owen was an exceptionally talented naturalist, with over 600 scientific books and papers. But perhaps his most lasting claim to fame is that he gave these fossils a name: the dinosaurs. And then he went ahead and sabotaged his own good name by picking a fight with one of the world’s most revered  scientists.

Want to stay up to speed with Science Diction? Subscribe to our newsletter.

Footnotes And Further Reading: 

Special thanks to Sean B. Carroll and the staff of the Natural History Museum in London.

Read an article by Howard Markel on this same topic.

Credits: 

Science Diction is written and produced by Johanna Mayer, with production and editing help from Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, with story editing help from Nathan Tobey. Our theme song and music are by Daniel Peterschmidt. This episode also featured music from Setuniman and The Greek Slave songs, used with permission from the open-source digital art history journal Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. We had fact-checking help from Michelle Harris, and mixing help from Kaitlyn Schwalje. Special thanks to the entire Science Friday staff.

Mar 10, 2020
Vaccine
12:09

For centuries, smallpox seemed unbeatable. People had tried nearly everything to knock it out—from herbal remedies to tossing back 12 bottles of beer a day (yep, that was a real recommendation from a 17th century doctor), to intentionally infecting themselves with smallpox and hoping they didn’t get sick, all to no avail.

And then, in the 18th century, an English doctor heard a rumor about a possible solution. It wasn’t a cure, but if it worked, it would stop smallpox before it started. So one spring day, with the help of a milkmaid, an eight-year-old boy, and a cow named Blossom, the English doctor decided to run an experiment. Thanks to that ethically questionable but ultimately world-altering experiment (and Blossom the cow) we got the word vaccine.

Want to stay up to speed with all things Science Diction? Sign up for our newsletter.

Footnotes And Further Reading: 

Special thanks to Elena Conis, Gareth Williams, and the Edward Jenner Museum.

Read an article by Howard Markel on this same topic.

We found many of the facts in this episode in “Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination” from Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings.

Credits: 

Science Diction is written and produced by Johanna Mayer, with production and editing help from Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, with story editing help from Nathan Tobey. Our theme song and music are by Daniel Peterschmidt. We had fact-checking help from Michelle Harris, and mixing help from Kaitlyn Schwalje. Special thanks to the entire Science Friday staff.

Mar 10, 2020
Meme
12:25

Remember that summer when the internet was one Distracted Boyfriend after another—that flannel-shirted dude rubbernecking at a passing woman, while his girlfriend glares at him? Everyone had their own take—the Boyfriend was you, staring directly at a solar eclipse, ignoring science. The Boyfriend was youth, seduced by socialism, spurning capitalism. The Boyfriend could be anyone you wanted him to be.   

We think of memes as a uniquely internet phenomenon. But the word meme originally had nothing to do with the internet. It came from an evolutionary biologist who noticed that genes weren’t the only thing that spread, mutated, and evolved.

Want to stay up to speed with all thing Science Diction? Sign up for our newsletter.

Guest: 

Gretchen McCulloch is an internet linguist. For some fun, check out her book, Because Internet, and her podcast Lingthusiasm. She’s also appeared on Science Friday.

Footnotes And Further Reading: 

For an academic take on memes, read Memes in Digital Culture by Limor Shifman.

Read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

Check out the first time the word meme appeared in an internet context, in Mike Godwin’s 1994 Wired article called “Meme, Counter-meme.”

Credits: 

Science Diction is written and produced by Johanna Mayer, with production and editing help from Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, and we had story editing help from Nathan Tobey. Our theme song and music are by Daniel Peterschmidt. We had fact-checking help from Michelle Harris. Special thanks to the entire Science Friday staff.

Mar 10, 2020
Science Friday Presents: Science Diction
1:36

From the people who make Science Friday, we bring you Science Diction, a bite-sized podcast about words—and the science stories behind them. Hosted by SciFri producer and self-proclaimed word nerd Johanna Mayer, each episode of Science Diction digs into the origin of a single word or phrase, and, with the help of historians, authors, etymologists, and scientists, reveals a surprising science connection. For example, did you know the origin of the word meme has more to do with evolutionary biology than lolcats? Here's a sneak peek!       

Feb 27, 2020