Word Bomb

Fat, doxx, like, trigger, moist, they, partner, renoviction —  what do these eight words have in common?

The answer is that they are the topics of the first eight episodes of Word Bomb, a new podcast from Canada. Unlike most of the other linguistics podcasts that I listen to, Word Bomb not the least bit technical: it’s dependably aimed at the general listener, perhaps too much so [more on that issue below]. If you’re interested in words, give it a try.

You may be able to tell from the list that at least some of these words have a social science connection. In fact they all do, but it’s not always obvious. Furthermore, you might not even know that all of them are actually words: I, for one, just learned doxx last year and just learned renoviction from this very podcast. (My excuses are that renoviction is primarily Canadian and that doxx is more usually spelled dox.) Here are the verbatim summaries of the first eight podcasts, as provided by the presenters:

  1. Hosts Pippa Johnstone and Karina Palmitesta discuss the word “fat,” bias, and the “euphemism treadmill.”
  2. What does it mean to “doxx somebody?” Word Bomb hosts Pippa Johnstone and Karina Palmitesta delve deep into the dark history of an ever-evolving culture of online discourse.
  3. What does it mean when we pepper everything we say with “like”? Word Bomb hosts Pippa Johnstone and Karina Palmitesta take a good, hard listen to their own speech patterns and reveal some surprising stats.
  4. TW: everything. Your hosts tackle “trigger” and talk safe spaces, trauma and “snowflakes” with a PhD student, a mental health advocate and a filmmaker.
  5. Why are people so hung up on the word “moist”? Pippa and Karina dismantle English’s most hated word.
  6. Small word, big impact. Pippa and Karina dive deep into the linguistic history and current politics of singular “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun.
  7. What’s in a name? Pippa and Karina make a case for using ‘partner’ to refer to that special someone and discuss the word’s LGTBQ backstory.
  8. Renoviction is a new word that’s spreading fast across Canada. In this episode, Pippa and Karina talk housing activism, word creation, and portmanteaux.

So that gives you a pretty good idea of the POV of this podcast. At the top I commented that Word Bomb is “dependably aimed at the general listener, perhaps too much so,” and you may wonder what I meant by that last phrase. I have nothing against popularizing linguistics or any other science; it’s useful and even necessary. My only objection is when a popularization is just plain wrong — or at least so misleading that it’s effectively wrong. Unlike the other linguistics podcasts I listen to, Word Bomb seems to think that all words are “made up.” This is a common but erroneous belief; even intelligent, educated, and sophisticated people can believe it. Of course some words are made up (such as “doxx” and “renoviction” and most scientific words such as “marsupial” and “kinetic”), but those constitute a tiny minority of all words. Most words have just developed naturally over the centuries, gradually morphing from parent to child until eventually a language becomes another one. Aside from words like “podcast” and the examples I specifically mentioned above, almost every single word in this paragraph has just emerged through natural processes rather than being invented by a specific person. Etymologies can usually be traced, but only to earlier languages, not to individual inventors.

Categories: Linguistics