Over the last few years, I’ve become a big fan of podcasts. I listen to podcasts while I’m cooking, doing housework, travelling or shopping for food. And it seems I’m not the only one who loves podcasts these days. According to Ofcom, there are nearly 6 million adults in the UK listening to podcasts every week. It’s a figure that’s almost double what it was five years ago.
One of the reasons why podcasts are appealing is the ever-expanding range of topics you can find. And I love podcasts about words. Here are five of my favourite podcasts about the English language.
Each 15 to 30 minute episode of The Allusionist is a “linguistic adventure”, hosted by Helen Zaltzman.
I love how varied these adventures are. I tune in because of my interest in language but I love that The Allusionist teaches me so much about history, people and culture too. Some of my favourite episodes have included:
87. Name v. Law
This episode is about the laws in Iceland and other countries governing the names people are allowed to give their children.
In this episode, Helen speaks to different people to trace the history of the word “queer” and its usage.
44. This is your brain on language
This episode features cognitive psychologist Dr Jenni Rodd explaining the way our brains behave in response to language. It also features an excellent ditty about jam by Ivor Cutler.
Lexitecture is the only podcast on this list to be hosted by two people, a Scot called Amy and a Canadian called Ryan. Each episode tends to be between 30 and 45 minutes as Amy and Ryan take it in turns to tell each other about a word they like.
This podcast is beautiful in its simplicity (or its perceived simplicity at least). Amy and Ryan’s mutual respect for each other, friendship, and genuine, nerdy enthusiasm about words shines through in every episode. It feels very informal, as if I’m sitting in a pub chatting about words with my friends.
My favourite episode is 17. Utopian Bedlam, particularly the bedlam section, because of the insights into the history of how mental health was perceived and treated throughout history.
Lexicon Valley is a podcast about “language, from pet peeves, syntax, and etomology to linguistics and the death of languages”. It’s hosted by John H McWhorter who teaches linguistics and other things at Columbia University in America.
My favourite thing about Lexicon Valley is the way John uses clips from songs, films and musicals to illustrate what he’s saying. It’s quite unique and the clips always make me smile.
The History of English Podcast
The History of English Podcast is hosted by Kevin Stroud, an attorney who loves history and language so he decided to create a podcast which combines those two subjects. It is a “chronological history of the English language examined through the lens of historical events that shaped the development and spread of the language from the Eurasian steppe to the entire world.” The episodes tend to be quite long at around 1 hour each but that does make them good for a lengthy commute.
The introductory music for this podcast reminds me of Stronghold, a castle-building strategy game that was originally released in 2001. That’s not the only reason I like this podcast. Like Kevin, I also find history really interesting and I like learning about how different historical events have shaped the language I use every day.
My favourite episode is 54. Pronoun Pros and Cons, mainly because pronouns are used so often.
Wordy Wordpecker is hosted by Rachel Lopez, a writer and editor with the Hindustan Times. In each episode, Rachel chooses a word and tells the story about how that word has changed over time to become what we would recognise today. Each episode is very short at around five minutes long.
I discovered this podcast very recently and it’s the first podcast I’ve listened to from India. For me, it’s really refreshing to listen to a podcast host who isn’t British, American or Canadian.
My favourite episode is 9. Pomegranate, mainly because I like Rachel’s impression of Hades, the god of the underworld in Greek mythology.
Listening to podcasts
It actually took me quite a while to figure out how to access and listen to podcasts. I thought that maybe you needed an Apple device or that it involved a complicated process I didn’t have time to learn. However it is actually quite simple.
You could listen to any of the podcasts in this blog by following the links in here to their own websites. Or if like me, you prefer all of your podcasts in one place and easy to access on your phone, an app could be a better idea.
I like Castbox because I can use it for free, all of the podcasts I like are there and I’m familiar with its layout and navigation now. However, there are plenty of others, including iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and Deezer.
One of the really great things about podcasts is that they can focus on niche subjects. However, by definition, niche podcasts have smaller audiences which can make them difficult to find amongst the 600,000+ shows out there.
I tend to find new podcasts through: