Audio lingo

This blog normally focuses on text, sometimes on images and video. Audio is relatively under-represented, so what follows is a selection of podcasts and interviews I’ve listened to lately, in a language-and-linguistics vein.


Some of you already know about Lexicon Valley, a new podcast on language from Slate, hosted by Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo. There have been six episodes so far, 20–40 minutes long and covering such subjects as syntax, taboo words, pseudo-rules and Scrabble. The show is entertaining, well-researched, and sometimes surprising.

Critical reaction from linguists and others has been very positive. Arnold Zwicky, who features in one show, is impressed, while Neal Whitman finds it interesting and linguistically sound. Dave Wilton thought the first episode fun and first rate, despite one minor criticism; Joe McVeigh (“excellent”) and Crikey (“treasure”) also praised it.

Lexicon Valley is on a temporary break but will soon be back with new episodes. Listeners are invited to comment and suggest ideas for future coverage.


Since 2009, to mark National Grammar Day in the U.S., John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun has been writing humorous pulp serials which he calls Grammarnoir. This year they reappeared as podcasts: Grammarnoir 1 (2009) (text); Grammarnoir 2 – Pulp Diction (2010) (text); and Grammarnoir 3 – The Wages of Syntax (2011).

Grammarnoir 4 (2012) has yet to be broadcast, but the script is online in four parts: one, two, three, four. Each serial plays with the style and language of hard-boiled crime fiction, and is packed with drama, derring-do and editorial wit.


Slang lexicographer Jonathon Green, author of the three-volume Green’s Dictionary of Slang, gave a lively and fascinating interview with New Books Network about slang in all its rambunctious glory. A voluble and thoughtful speaker, he discusses lexicographical research, historical attitudes to slang and taboo, the Urban Dictionary, and more.


In 2001, Judy Swallow on NPR’s The Connection hosted an interesting discussion about language between Bryan Garner and David Foster Wallace – both articulate and passionate commentators on language. They are rather more prescriptivist in their outlook than I am, but don’t let that put you off. One listener calls in to criticise different than, insisting it should be different from. Her reasoning was quite strange:

If you compare two things, one’s gonna be up and one’s gonna be down, and then you use than, but if something is simply different, it’s different from the way it used to be.

(It’s possible she said gotta rather than gonna; I couldn’t tell.) Garner defended the usage, saying that different from would have been “very awkward and difficult” in the instances in question. My post on different than, from, and to, which received a fresh flurry of comments recently, shows that different than is acceptable.


Finally, a shout-out to A Way with Words, a public radio favourite hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, which I’ve been enjoying for years and recommend highly to anyone unaware of it. Etymology, wordplay and dialectal variation are recurring themes.

If you know any podcasts or other audio material that you think I might enjoy, language-related or otherwise, feel free to suggest them.

11 Responses to Audio lingo

  1. Thank you, Stan! :) I’ve got Lexicon Valley cued up in my podcast program for a big flight next week.

  2. that you think I might enjoy

    Dangerous words coming from you, as I tend to believe you’re interested in everything!

    A few weeks ago, when I listened to The Skeptic Zone (Australian skeptics) interviewing The Skeprechauns (Irish skeptics), I mused a little on what might happen if the latter invited you on as a guest sometime (possibly to be sceptical of language claims). I’m sure it would be good. But I suspect it will be forever in my imagination.

    (Hmm. When I’ve finished commenting, I think I’ll go and listen to an episode of Big Picture Science, specifically the one entitled “Life Back Then“, because that’s where I’m up to. Yes, I will…)

  3. Stan says:

    Grant: You’re very welcome. I look forward to hearing what you think of Lexicon Valley.

    Adrian: Almost everything. :-) Thanks for the suggestions. I used to listen to a few sceptic shows, and a lot of science ones, but not much any more. As for the group you refer to: pity about that name.

  4. Can’t figure out what the group I refer to refers to.

  5. Marc Leavitt says:

    “A Way with Words” has been part of my vocabulary for more than a year. It’s well worth a listen, and it gives me a chance to eat ice cream at the same time. “Lexicon Valley” is on my slate as a favorite; I think they’re scrabbling to make it a game of choice.

  6. Stan says:

    Adrian: “The Skeprechauns”.

    Marc: That’s a nice bit of wordplay. Luckily, we can choose to listen to both.

  7. alexmccrae1546 says:


    Thanks for giving our astute John McIntyre at his “You Don’t Say” blog a nice plug for his entertaining Grammarnoir series of self-penned (and acted) newspaper-related, noirish audio dramas. They are terrifically engaging pieces.

    It’s always a hoot when he’s obliged to rise to a female falsetto when acting out the dialogue of one of his fictive femme fatale(s). I gather he’s actually going to enlist some bona fide women actors to perform in his Grammarnoir 4 upcoming installment. (Still in the works.)

    I have a great fondness for the American humorist Garrison Keillor’s hapless gumshoe character, Guy Noir, on his most entertaining NPR Prairie Home Companion broadcasts. He cleverly creates that authentic Raymond Chandler-esque period vibe, w/ the clipped, staccato dialogue, and the melodramatic, sultry mood music.

    John has kind of borrowed a bit of that Keillor Guy Noir ‘ambiance’ in his Grammarnoir works, but manages to give them his own uniquely personal narrative twist that sets them apart from the blatant chauvinistic Minnesotan’s sterling efforts.

    I’d encourage your readers to check out John’s “You Don’t Say” blog at The Sun, which, of late, has been going thru some major adjustments, due to the introduction of a newfangled, rather balky, and frustratingly awkward “Comments” software format.

    Nonetheless, comments would be much welcomed, and appreciated.

  8. Stan says:

    Alex: My pleasure. I agree: the Grammarnoirs are highly entertaining, and the move from text to audio seems natural and smooth. Much as I would miss John’s falsetto, though, I think the addition of a natural woman’s voice would be most worthwhile.

  9. Far too seldom do I encounter anyone who would know of, let alone enjoy, A Way with Words. Cheers! This is my first time to your site. Diggin’ it. Thanks.

  10. Stan says:

    It’s a great show, Nichole – a consistent treat for word- and language-lovers. Thanks for visiting.

  11. […] So is the podcast, but you knew that. […]

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