Science Diction 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. Did you know the origin of the word meme has more to do with evolutionary biology than lolcats? Or that the element cobalt takes its name from a very cheeky goblin from German folklore? Fun, nosy, and nerdy, Science Diction takes a look at what we're really saying when we use everyday words.Science Diction is a show for information packrats who are constantly sniffing out knowledge—you can listen while making your coffee or brushing your teeth. Episodes will drop once a week in the Science Friday podcast feed for the show's four-episode first season.Continuing Science Friday's decades-long track record of making science accessible, Science Diction reveals the science in places we didn't even know it existed. Because science is everywhere—even in our words. Locked inside our language are etymologies and histories that often stretch back centuries. Crafted with an ear for literature and seamlessly blending science, history, language, and culture, Science Diction examines the world around us and shines a light on the hidden science tucked away in our everyday words.
Science Diction

Science Diction

From WNYC Radio

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. Did you know the origin of the word meme has more to do with evolutionary biology than lolcats? Or that the element cobalt takes its name from a very cheeky goblin from German folklore? Fun, nosy, and nerdy, Science Diction takes a look at what we're really saying when we use everyday words.Science Diction is a show for information packrats who are constantly sniffing out knowledge—you can listen while making your coffee or brushing your teeth. Episodes will drop once a week in the Science Friday podcast feed for the show's four-episode first season.Continuing Science Friday's decades-long track record of making science accessible, Science Diction reveals the science in places we didn't even know it existed. Because science is everywhere—even in our words. Locked inside our language are etymologies and histories that often stretch back centuries. Crafted with an ear for literature and seamlessly blending science, history, language, and culture, Science Diction examines the world around us and shines a light on the hidden science tucked away in our everyday words.

Most Recent Episodes

Meme

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.

Vaccine

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. "The cow-pock - or - the wonderful effects of the new inoculation" by James Gillray in 1802, featured at the beginning of this episode. (Library of Congress) 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.

Dinosaur

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. Woodcut of the famous dinner inside of an Iguanodon shell at the Crystal Palace in 1854. Artist unknown. (Wikimedia Commons) 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.

Cobalt

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. The infamous Han van Meegeren, hard at work. (Wikimedia Commons) 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.

Science Friday Presents: Science Diction

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!

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