The Allusionist ★★★★★
The Allusionist is a show about etymology, or the origin of words, hosted by the witty and verbally skillful Helen Zaltzman. The show logo is hopefully conveying to you that if you like Boggle-this show is for you! If you like Scrabble, if you like to learn languages or understand why certain languages sound the same (parts of words have shared origins or the language might have grown from a parent language), if you are unsure about what an emoticon is or how it has become sort of a … language? … this is a show you will enjoy. Think learning about words, with a heavy dose of humor.
Zaltzman is a great host and has worked on other successful programs (Answer Me This!, Sound Women) and her experience shows. I love that she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about filtering herself. If you are authentically hosting a show and you’re not boring, people will either love it or hate it – there won’t be any in between. And I love The Allusionist because of Zaltzman. This show is totally right for her and wrong for so many other potential hosts (though I did enjoy the Radiotopia cross-pollination of Nate DiMeo, Neil Katcher, Dave Nadelberg, and Phoebe Judge on recent episodes).
Episodes usually include a story about a given word, a casual interview or just discussion with another expert or consultant, a lot of humor, and some true etymology. The length is usually about 20-25 minutes, which is excellent for the content.
I always forget that a special surprise is coming at the end of each episode, and I am delighted every time when it appears. Zaltzman picks a random dictionary word for a listener. She posts a picture of the word on the website too. I don’t know when I’ll use the term “Welsh onion” but it’s entertaining nonetheless. This is one of the few podcasts in my subscription list that I check really often just to see if a new episode is up yet, even though I know it’s usually posted every week. I just want more!
What do you think of this podcast? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss!
Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (5 / 5)
Pop Culture Value (3 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (5 / 5)
A host is so critical to the success of a show like this and Zaltzman hits it out of the park with her quick humor and obvious intelligence. I like her cheerful interview style.
Flow & Production Value (4 / 5)
Humor (4 / 5)
Investigation (5 / 5)
Investigation of words! Great concept that you might think would be boring, but it’s totally not.
Storytelling (5 / 5)
I feel like I’m listening to a chapter of a book with each episode. Zaltzman’s humor is what binds the episodes together in a cohesive package and I love that each episode is fairly short and just enough to make me want to hear the next one.
Makes Me a Better Person (5 / 5)
Bonus Stars: ★
Yep – it’s the website. Each episode has additional show notes, links to Zaltzman’s recommended reading material, and even transcripts. All behind Boggle icon links. OMG.
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (5 / 5)
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