Language & Linguistics Podcasts

For reference, a list of podcasts about language: linguistics, etymology, word nerd fun, etc. All are either active or have a significant archive to enjoy. Some are considerably more technical than others. So it goes. I welcome suggestions for more.

Video and other media series:


My Facebook Reduction Plan

It might seem strange that after surviving the (so far but barely) worst of the political season, it took a routine recurrence of the eternal Oxford Comma debate to force me to rethink my use of Facebook. But so it goes. After being tagged and trolled into another round of disputation in which the futility is rivaled in intensity only by my bewilderment that there is a debate at all1, I belatedly realized I need to become much more intentional in my use2 of Facebook. It was precisely because the comma debate was, as usual, so inordinately frustrating and draining—at least when engaging in conversation about politics it feels like there’s something actually important at play—that I knew I needed to re-consider my engagement.

Facebook faces what I believe to be an insoluble existential problem in being, as Mike Caulfield put it recently, an “identity platform that is being used as a news platform”3. But my immediate need isn’t about that, at least not directly. I don’t want to find a better way to get “news” from Facebook or expect Facebook to give me “better” news. I don’t need news from Facebook at all…I merely want to exert a little more control and make using Facebook a more positive experience while enjoying connections to friends, writers, fellow editors and other literary venues.

So, this is what I’ve done:

  • Created a few Friend Lists: one with the subset of people whose posts I want to see regularly, another with the subset of people whose posts I want to see regularly but who also tend to be excessively political or just too much, in some way, for me to read without preparing myself and a few others limited to magazines and literary venues, etc. The first list is my new starting point for Facebook.
  • Selected a very small group of friends to “See First” in my News Feed Preferences.
  • I still use Facebook messages to talk to some people, but I use the app (or the web app) so I don’t even see the News Feed or anything else when doing so.
  • Removed my “pinned” Facebook tab4 in my browsers.
  • Limited my Facebook time to promotion/sharing on my “official” pages and brief, timed sessions otherwise…and trying not to perform the latter in the morning.

The last two have been most important in combating my behavioral problems, using Facebook as a means of procrastination and feeding the gnawing black dog of depression. Plagued by insomnia, I found myself waking up (way too early) and pulling up Facebook with my morning coffee. Instead of reading or writing or attending to anything on my endless to-do list of vaguely creative tasks I ended up endlessly scrolling—and eventually rage-scrolling—in search of…I don’t know what. I don’t want to be a rat pushing a lever, much less one pushing a lever for a reward I can’t identify or define—and may never have existed in the first place. I had no answer to the questions I posed to myself as to what I might find that would make me want to stop scrolling or what positive result came from my routine feeding on Facebook.

The downside? Since I read a lot less and comment/like a lot less, I imagine I’m losing some of the network effects of interaction, resulting in lessened exposure not just of my own posts but those from concīs and Katexic Clippings too. I suppose I fall victim to the occasional niggling but of FOMO. I have one less thing to blame for laziness and sloth. And I do occasionally miss the loose-knit communities I’m part of there.5

None of this is rocket science; I’m mostly posting about it here as a signpost for my future self.

  1. My position: long live the Oxford Comma…where needed for clarity. As a friend noted, it might be too long for a bumpersticker. 
  2. Some friends of mine have dumped Facebook altogether. I still see too much value in the connections to friends, family, readers and writers—not to mention its ubiquity as an authentication hub—to go that far. And Facebook is a little insidious in requiring professional pages such as those for concīs and Katexic Clippings be connected to personal pages…and, I suspect, using one’s personal activity in Facebook as a magnifier for promotion, both literally and in visibility on other timelines. 
  3. The primary problem, the conflation of “news” and “News” is illustrated right there in Facebook’s titling of the “News Feed.” I suspect there’s no solution because it reflects that we as members of whatever groups we form, on social media or not, are de facto identity platforms through which we try to grok news. But that’s a mostly different thing. 
  4. I can’t believe I reached a point where I actually had pinned Facebook. 
  5. This is where I should invoke some analogy to illustrate that Faecbook isn’t evil, followed by mourning the loss of community that used to happen in blogs and other spaces, capped off with noting the catch-22 of reviving that community, all seasoned with a pinch of nostalgia about the loss of significant conversations like the ones we had in the good old days. 

About S-Town

I want to write something about S-Town, the 7-episode real-life story podcast, because it gave me all the feels and then some. But I don’t have time nor my thoughts in any semblance of order. I will say I think everyone should listen to it even if you don’t listen to podcasts (just think of this is a short, rich audio book) or like S-Town’s production roots (Serial and This American Life) because this show truly does its own thing. Starlee Kine’s (creator of the much-loved Mystery Show and one of the story editors) tiny handprints can happily be found all over this production. Were I in charge, I would have marketed the Starlee Kine connection more!

While listening I felt a bit let down by the last two episodes…but after letting my subconscious chew on it for a while I feel just the opposite, that those two episodes are crucial to the story—and the show—as a whole.

Absolutely required listening.

A Podcast Listening Update

podcast listen

Inspired by Bryan Alexander’s latest post, here’s an update on my own podcast listening (see my last update).


  • Titles in bold indicate “queue jumpers” aka QJs aka shows that I listen to as soon as I can without skipping episodes. Otherwise I obviously pick and choose episodes like any sane person (in many cases I might listen to one of every dozen or so…maybe next time I’ll create a ranking based on the percentage I actually listen to).

  • The play (►) icons link to single episodes I think represent a show well.

  • I do all of my listening using the nearly perfect Overcast app (iOS only, I’m afraid) and complementary web site…except for the occasional show that has an early release on Stitcher Premium.

  • I’m a member of Team Speed, meaning I listen to most podcasts at 1.5-1.75x using Overcast’s smart and pitch-aware features. I offer no apologies.


Unless noted otherwise, these are worth going back and listening to if you missed them.

  • Homecoming. Likely this is the only season since it’s now being made into a television show.
  • Limetown. Series ended. Very good though!
  • LifeAfter. Another solid sci-fi podcast (marred by a terrible lead actor) that ended. Worth listening to.
  • Mystery Show. Folded…worth listening to the archive if you haven’t already.
  • Say Yes: An Elliott Smith Podcast. A wonderful tribute to Elliott Smith celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of Either/Or. Great for Elliott’s fans. If you’re not one already, you should listen to his music first!
  • Undone. Ended. The final episode about the space shuttle Columbia was so good.

Stopped Listening

Some removed since my last update; some that I started and stopped since then.

  • The Contrafabulists. Not particularly insightful and a little myopic, focused on its own schtick. Education and its intersection with technology, culture, business and history need good podcasts.
  • Crimetown. Just didn’t hold my interest. Keep in mind I’m weary of true crime.
  • Filmspotting. An excellent podcast, I just don’t have time and don’t watch enough movies.
  • We Have Concerns. The hosts were neither as funny or informed as they think they are.
  • The Moth. A classic storytelling podcast that’s still of the highest quality. I’ve just moved to other story podcasts and only have so much time.
  • Next Picture Show. Another good one, I just don’t have time or watch enough movies.
  • Pod Save America. The talk and snark might be a salve for some…for me it’s just depressing.
  • Reading Envy. I just don’t connect with the host or most of the guests.
  • Still Processing. Another podcast where I simply don’t connect with the hosts.

New Additions

New and of general interest since my last update.

  • 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop. A stellar and varied group of high profile writers speaking briefly to their craft. A consistent (repetitive) set of questions, but since they’re mostly good questions.
  • Amicus with Dahlia Lithwick. Dahlia Lithwick is smart and reasonable…the kind of judicial commentator we’re going to need much more of in the future.
  • Adam Ruins Everything. Surprisingly insightful “behind the story” shows. I’ve never seen the television show, but maybe I should.
  • All in the Mind A show about the brain and behavior that is generally interesting and informed, though it doesn’t dig too deep.
  • Backstory. A solid “history and what it means today” podcast.
  • The Book Show. 25 minute interviews with a range of contemporary authors. Crosses genre lines but generally big-name mainstream authors.
  • Common Sense with Dan Carlin. Consistently smart and engaging—and often unique in my listening—inquiry into news and current events.
  • Crazy Good Turns. A podcast celebrating good deeds and kindness.
  • The Daily. From The New York Times, each brief episode digs into one feature story with some notable bits and bobs. I don’t know why people hate on the host, Michael Barbaro.
  • Damn Interesting. An intermittent, but quality show featuring “fascinating true stories from history, science, and psychology.”
  • Flash Forward. Each week, an exploration of a specific possible future, from the end of antibiotics to conscious Artificial intelligence to America as a direct democracy and many more.
  • Found. Exploring the stories (and then some) behind found notes.
  • Hardcore History with Dan Carlin. Epic investigations into history and what it has to say about our present and future. The most recent episode, on humans and weaponry, is nearly six hours long.
  • Hidden Brain. The general topic of this podcast—how are brain works with a particular focus on the difference between how we consciously understand those workings and the way they really work—is deeply fascinating. But I usually speed listen for different things to further investigate because Shankar Vedantam is hard to listen to.
  • Hilarious World of Depression. Depression and other mental maladies as seen and lived through the lens of sufferers who are also comedians such as Maria Bamford and Peter Sagal.
  • How to be Amazing with Michael Ian Black. A surprisingly (though it shouldn’t be) smart show featuring interviews with a stellar array of creative guests from the first female dean of the Yale School of Architecture to Neil DeGrasse Tyson to Jim Gaffigan. Very nearly a QJ.
  • KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center. I want to hate this oh-so-NPR show, but I end up feeling like I’ve learned something every time.
  • Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly. Featuring Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood (of NPR’s Marketplace), I’m still in evaluation mode with this one. Smart topics and I enjoy the hosts, but not sure the stories are differentiated enough from my other listening.
  • The Moment with Brian Koppelman. Always above average, when Koppelman is “on” he is unparalleled. And he clearly digs deep into the work of his guests before he has them on. Like other interview shows, the only reason this isn’t a QJ is there are sometimes guests I’m just wholly uninterested in.
  • The Mood Elevator. Good, uplifting, happy news stories, video, etc. twice a week. Much needed.
  • The Museum of Lost Objects. A BBC Radio production examining antiquities and sites that have been lost to war and looting in Syria and Iraq. Their site also features accompanying illustrated articles.
  • On the Media. Back in rotation for this new political era.
  • Open Source with Christopher Lydon. Another general interest—ideas, art and politics—podcast I inexplicably stopped listening to a few years ago.
  • Overdue. A well done podcast about “books you should have read by now.”
  • Philosophy 24/7. Probably of interest mostly to those interested in philosophy proper; interesting and understandable for prosumers like myself.
  • Philosophy Bites. 15-20 minute interviews in philosophy of/and art.
  • Pod Save the World. What a difference a focus on foreign policy and solid guests makes. Consistently good, even great, insight (mostly from the guests).
  • Reveal. In-depth stories from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
  • StartUp. I resisted this one for too long, feeling like it was too insular and directed at would-be business creators. In fact, it’s a deep gaze into compelling people and personalities, whether that gaze is turned inward or outward.
  • The Story Collider. Live (mostly) storytelling of science and life.
  • Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. A game show of sorts in which audience contestants tell a panel of leading scientists, comedians, authors and other experts something they don’t (likely) know.
  • Twenty Thousand Hertz. Telling the story of iconic and interesting sounds from the NBC chimes and Siri to talking dolls and now-mostly-extinct technologies.
  • The Weeds. This may come off my listening list in the future, but the chaos of the Trump administration’s policy-making is exactly what this show and its tinge of snark is made for.
  • What’s the Point?. Data, big and small, analytics and our lives.
  • Whatever Happened to Pizza at McDonalds. One of very few shows that has made me literally LOL. Many times. Not so sure about the direction in the new season, but the first complete arc is hilarious. And don’t skip the “ads.”
  • With Friends Like These. I admire host Ana Marie Cox’s mission to try to understand those on different sides of the recently-greatly exposed cultural divide. And I enjoy her humanity—and her obvious difficulty sometimes in controlling her own emotions—while doing so.
  • The World According to Sound. From brain arteries to washing machines, torture music to Wikipedia-as-music. 90-second episodes featuring a sound from the world around us.
  • The World Next Week. A weekly collection of international news to pay attention to. From the Council on Foreign Relations.
  • Writers Who Don’t Write. I don’t quite understand the premise of “telling the stories our guests never could” but WWDW often features interviews with lesser known (but still accomplished) writers, journalists, screenwriters, cartoonists, editors and the occasional comedian.

Still Listening

  • 99% Invisible. One of the original “hidden story” shows and still the best.
  • Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything. Clearly there are many great podcasts…very few are as singular as the creative, sometimes madcap and occasionally maddening TOE.
  • Bookworm. Pretty much the books and writing show that defines them all. Michael Silverblatt is the best in the business when it comes to collaborative conversations with authors and insight into their works.
  • Criminal. A true crime show, but one that often takes the idea in new directions, delving beyond the merely criminal and into the psychological and sociological…and occasionally the more distantly historical.
  • FiveThirtyEight Politics. The FiveThirtyEight crew didn’t get enough credit for their election coverage because of the myth that they were “wrong” when, in fact, they were one of very few to get it right. Their purposefully focused perspective flounders a bit when dealing with policy, like health care, but it still consistently yields interesting bits.
  • Freakonomics Radio. Former QJ, but competition is tough! Still a show that manages to make even the most apparently-uninteresting topics interesting.
  • Fresh Air. I know, I know…but when Terry Gross is on—and she often is—and has an interesting guest, which she often does, this classic remains great.
  • Ideas from CBC Radio. A wide range of topics, very much along the line of In Our Time but with a much less annoying, and less involved, host.
  • In Our Time. The host still gets on my nerves but he’s clearly well-informed and the guests and topics are always fascinating.
  • Literature and History. Covering “Anglophone literature from antiquity to the present,” this is an epic undertaking that not only delves into the work and history but also provides dramatic synopsized readings and the occasional (eminently skippable) comedy song.
  • Memory Palace. Nate DiMeo’s history-based storytelling has and does it all: beautiful, lyrical, compact and inspired.
  • Naked Scientists. A lighthearted, but well-informed, look at science topics.
  • The Nerdist. Chris Hardwick is maturing as a host, but I still only listen when the guest is particularly interesting and/or when a guest isn’t also appearing on WTF or other, better, shows.
  • Northern Soundings. A local production but the guests, and conversation, are usually of interest to anyone. Robert Hannon is a fine host.
  • On Being. Sometimes a little too earnest, but when Tippett snags a great guest, like Carlo Rovelli, Anil Dash or Maria Popova, this show is without peer.
  • Planet Money. Along with Freakonomics Radio, the only show about finance and money I can stomach.
  • Reply All. Technology is the locus, but not the focus, of this warm, interesting show. The hosts have unique chemistry and let the stories go where they need to.
  • Revisionist History. Love or hate Malcolm Gladwell, or both, but this series is consistently fascinating.
  • Science Vs.. Digging into the research on topics from climate change to acne and gun control to fracking. The relative objectivity isn’t always matched by a suitable depth of research, thus drawing conclusions perhaps too quickly, but far better than most slanted coverage.
  • Serial. Unlike many, I thought the second season was at least as good as the first. I wonder if the decreased success was because we are in a climate where un-demonizing Bowe Bergdahl isn’t encouraged.
  • Shakespeare Unlimited. From the Folger library, this accessible podcast covers a great range of Shakespearean topics from page and stage to science and contemporary culture.
  • Shakespeare and Contemporary Theory. Deep in the theory weeds for Shakespeare wonks.
  • Song Exploder. Even when the song being examined isn’t one I know, or even like, seeing the process of creation and production is fascinating.
  • StarTalk Radio. Pros: Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Eugene Mirman and other guests. Cons: it’s long and some guests are duds. I mean, Jay Leno? Fareed Zakaria?
  • Strangers. I dropped this “true stories about people and their lives” podcast because it was increasingly “stories about the host.” Of late, though, it has returned to exceptional form.
  • Surprisingly Awesome. There’s been a boom in the “unseen stories” podcasts. I’m amazed how many are quality listens.
  • Sword and Scale. Powerful true crime, a genre I’m close to running out of room for. But this is one of the best.
  • This American Life. The thing is, Ira Glass and company occasionally hit one so far out of the park that they are in a league of their own.
  • WTF with Marc Maron. Selectivity and skipping the self-indulgent 15-20 minute intros is the key to enjoying Marc Maron, who still manages to elicit conversation from his guests that no one else can.
  • Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me. I don’t know why I feel a need to defend my NPR choices, but dammit: this is a funny show!

Words, Language, Linguistics

  • A Way with Words. Mostly word/slang/colloquialisms and their usage and etymology. Not at all technical but always entertaining.
  • The Allusionist. Word history and etymology, occasional interviews, a bit sassy, not too long and I’m still not tired of it.
  • Conlangery Podcast. I’m just a constructed language bystander, but this is still a good listen if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re wondering “what is a constructed language?” this isn’t the show for you.
  • The History of English. Another epic podcast, this time documenting the history of the language from its earliest roots to today. The only reason this isn’t a QJ jumper is because I’m still so many episodes behind.
  • Lexicon Valley. My love of John McWhorter elevates Lexicon Valley above the usual language podcast.
  • Lingthusiasm. Relatively new and still finding its feet as far as production values, but quite good nonetheless. A nice mix of technical/specialist material and popular content for enthusiasts.
  • Silly Linguistics. A general interest program about language and linguistics. Could use some sound/production improvements, but topics ranging from the origin of language to an interview with Kevin Stroud (of The History of English podcast) are worth the occasional annoyance.
  • Speculative Grammarian. The “LingNerds” have serious fun with linguistics and language topics.
  • Talk the Talk. An Australian (though one of the hosts is American) radio show full of word, language and linguistics goodness.
  • That’s What They Say. A weekly, four-minute language podcast, mostly focusing on specific words and usage, with the fabulous Ann Curzan.
  • The World in Words. A half-hourish show about “everything from bilingual education to the globalization of English to Icelandic insults.”

Fiction, Poetry, Storytelling, Genre, Serialized

  • Ars Paradoxica. I’m only a few episodes into the first season of this time-travel sci-fi story podcast. I’ll give it a few more episodes to catch my interest.
  • Black Tapes. I think Bryan puts it best, “a mockumentary about supernatural horror, with loving homages to the X-Files and This American Life.”
  • The Bright Sessions. A very well-told and well-acted podcast told through the therapy sessions of patients with supernatural abilities with Dr. Bright, their enigmatic therapist.
  • The Moby Dick Big Read. A variety of actors and writers reading Moby Dick. I’ll finish it someday.
  • The New Yorker Poetry Podcast. As noted last year, alternately delightful and tedious, insightful and smug.
  • Poetry Magazine: Poetry Off the Shelf. Readings, interviews, short documentary stories.
  • Poetry Magazine: Poem of the Day. Just what it says: a poem every day. Old and new, generally worth close listening.
  • Poetry Magazine: Poetry Now. A four minute weekly featuring contemporary poets reading a single poem.
  • RABBITS. Two episodes into this show by the creators of the excellent Tanis podcast and I’m hoping it picks up now that some necessary exposition has been conveyed.
  • RISK!. “True tales boldly told” is this show’s fitting motto. Replaced The Moth as my go-to storytelling podcast.
  • Serendipity. The monthly podcast of The Sarah Awards for audio fiction featuring award winners and finalists.
  • Secrets, Crimes & Audiotape. Highly produced, multi-part podcast drama/audio fiction, often featuring actors you’ll recognize.
  • Snap Judgment. Great stories featuring strong music and sound design.
  • Tanis. One of the best, if not the best, serialized sci-fi story podcasts.