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10 minutes | Aug 3, 2021
Honeymoon: A Bittersweet Beginning
Honeymoon: It just seems like a word that would have a lovely story behind it, doesn’t it? When a listener named Eric emailed us from Centerville, Ohio asking about the word, that’s what we were hoping to find. Instead, we found a more bittersweet origin stretching all the way back to an early modern poem. Plus: We take a look at what’s going on in our brains during the honeymoon period—and whether it’s all downhill from there. If you want us to cover a word on the show, get in touch! Give us a call, leave a message, and we might play it on the show. The number is 929-499-WORD, or 929-499-9673. Or, you can always send an email to email@example.com. Guest: Christine Proulx is an Associate Professor in Human Development and Family Science at the University of Missouri. Footnotes & Further Reading: Read the full John Heywood poem where the word "honeymoon" appears for the first time. Learn more about what’s happening in your brain during the honeymoon phase. Read the full study on how researchers used an fMRI to find activity in the ventral tegmental area of the brains of people who recently fell in love. Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Senior Producer Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer, and they mastered the episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. Special thanks this week to Michael Lorber and Helen Fisher. See you soon.
25 minutes | Jul 7, 2021
It'll Never Fly: When Gene Names Are TOO Fun
In 1910, a fruit fly geneticist named Thomas Hunt Morgan noticed something strange in one of his specimens. Out of his many, many fruit flies—all with brilliant red eyes—a single fly had white eyes. This fruit fly turned out to be a very big deal. From those white eyes, Morgan eventually figured out that genes can be sex-linked, confirmed that genes exist on chromosomes, and won the Nobel prize. But he also cemented his legacy another way, with what he chose to name that gene: "white". It might sound uninspired, but it kicked off a tradition that decades later gave us names like spatzle, hamlet, and ken and barbie. Here and there, a name went too far, but overall, fanciful names brought joy to researchers and worked well until genes like these were discovered in humans, and everything went awry. Johanna and Senior Producer Elah Feder team up with Helen Zaltzman of The Allusionist to talk about fruit flies, genes, and whether it’s ok to name a gene after a German noodle. Plus, after much demand, we bring you... the origin of "defenestration"! Guests: Helen Zaltzman is the host of The Allusionist. Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Senior Producer Elah Feder. Our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
12 minutes | Jun 22, 2021
What Do You Call A Tiny Octopus That’s Cute As A Button?
What pigment do we owe to the squid? And what do you name a teeny tiny octopus that’s cute as a button? In this episode of Diction Dash, we’re talking about those clever and often tentacled marine invertebrates: Cephalopods. Diana Montano, Science Friday’s resident trivia maestro, quizzes Johanna. But this time, Johanna calls in reinforcements—from Science Friday host Ira Flatow himself. If you want us to cover a word on the show, get in touch! Give us a call, leave a message, and we might play it on the show. The number is 929-499-WORD, or 929-499-9673. Or, you can always send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This episode is part of Science Friday's annual Cephalopod Week! Join the cephalo-bration. Guests: Diana Montano is the Outreach Manager at Science Friday. Ira Flatow is the Host of Science Friday. Footnotes & Further Reading: Join Science Friday’s annual Cephalopod Week celebration of our favorite, often tentacled, marine invertebrates. In the episode, we mention Science Friday’s video on the Adorabilis—check it out, and prepare to say “awww.” For a detailed explanation of how to pluralize “octopus,” Merriam-Webster has your back. Sponsor a cephalopod! With every donation of $8 made during Cephalopod Week, you’ll get a special Cephalopod Badge, featuring your choice of ceph, your first name and city. You’ll find it swimming in our very own Sea of Support. Credits: This episode of Science Diction was produced by Johanna Mayer with Diana Montano and Katie Feather. Elah Feder is our Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt composed all our music and they mastered this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
26 minutes | Jun 8, 2021
Language Evolves: It’s Literally Fine
If you read the title of this episode and cringed, you’re not alone. At Merriam-Webster, editors and lexicographers receive countless letters grousing about the addition of certain words to the dictionary. And here at Science Diction, we get our fair share of emails pointing out our linguistic missteps. But the more you dig into the origins of words, the more you notice that when it comes to language, “correctness” is a slippery concept. In fact, some of our most beloved English words - nickname! newt! - were born of mistakes. In this episode, Merriam-Webster lexicographers Emily Brewster and Peter Sokolowski explain the mistake-ridden origins of our words, how language evolves, and how wrong becomes right. Plus, we answer a listener question about the most exported word in the English language. Guests: Emily Brewster is a Senior Editor and Lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. Peter Sokolowski is a Lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Senior Producer and Editor Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt composed our music, and they mastered this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
15 minutes | May 25, 2021
Serendipity and Syzygy: Fortunate Accidents
How did a country's name end up inside the word, “serendipity"? And what’s a “syzygy"? And, more importantly, why does it have so many y’s? Over the past year, several listeners have written to us asking about these two words. Now, we answer—with a little help. Eli Chen and Justine Paradis join us for a round of Diction Dash, where Johanna tries (and usually fails) to guess the correct origin or meaning of a word. If you want us to cover a word on the show, get in touch! Give us a call, leave a message, and we might play it on the show. The number is 929-499-WORD, or 929-499-9673. Or, you can always send an email to email@example.com. Guests: Justine Paradis is a reporter and producer for Outside/In from New Hampshire Public Radio. Eli Chen is senior editor of Overheard at National Geographic. Footnotes & Further Reading: More on how a syzygy helped free the Suez ship at the Wall Street Journal Read The Three Princes of Serendip Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Senior Producer and Editor Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt composed all our music. Fact checking by Robin Palmer. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
13 minutes | May 11, 2021
Ambergris: How Constipation Becomes A Luxury Product
Last month, Science Diction received a letter from a listener named Ben. He wanted to know about ambergris, a strange substance that washes up on beaches from time to time. So today, we’re talking about this thing that for centuries, rich people coveted, rubbed on their necks, and even ate, all without having any idea what it really was. If they had known, they might have put their forks right down. Plus, Science Diction now has a phone number! If you, like Ben, want us to cover a certain word, you can call in, leave us a message, and we might play it on the show. Call 929-499-WORD or 929 499 9673. Or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest: Christopher Kemp is the author of Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris. Special thanks to Ben Gartner for emailing us and inspiring this episode. Footnotes & Further Reading: To learn more about ambergris, read Christopher Kemp’s book Floating Gold. Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and senior producer Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Robin Palmer helped fact check this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
14 minutes | Apr 13, 2021
Orphans Delivered The World's First Vaccine
When the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use last December, it felt like - at last! - our nightmare was nearly over. Then came reports of botched distribution efforts, from broken websites to factory mix-ups. Scientists created the vaccine in record time, but it was beginning to look like that might’ve been the easy part. But if you think vaccine distribution was a logistical nightmare in 2021, try doing it in the early 1800s. In 1796, Edward Jenner discovered that cowpox worked as a vaccine against smallpox. All you had to do was pop a cowpox sore on someone’s skin and transfer the lymph fluid (a.k.a. pus) into a cut on a second person. Soon, they'd develop a few sores, but when they recovered, they'd be immune to smallpox, a far more serious disease. This worked well enough for short distances, but when smallpox began to destroy Spanish colonies in the Americas, Spain had to figure out a way to move the vaccine across the ocean. Their solution was resourceful, effective, and very ethically dubious. Science writer Sam Kean brings us the story of the world's first vaccination campaign. Guest: Sam Kean is a science writer, author of The Bastard Brigade, and host of the podcast Disappearing Spoon from the Science History Institute. Footnotes & Further Reading: Listen to our episode on the origin of the word ‘vaccine.’ Listen to a full episode about this story on Sam Kean’s podcast, Disappearing Spoon. Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Elah Feder. Elah is our Editor and Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
23 minutes | Mar 30, 2021
Diction Dash: You Asked, We Answer
Over the past year, you’ve sent us words you want us to cover on the show. And for months, we let those suggestions pile up into a list of nearly 200 words. Today, we begin to chip away at that lexical mountain. A team of Science Friday producers set out to tackle five listener-suggested words and quiz Johanna about their meaning or origin in a game we’re calling, Diction Dash. Feel free to play along... or just listen to Johanna get all the answers wrong. We still want your suggestions! If you want us to cover a word on the show, send an email to email@example.com. We’ll add it to the lexical mountain. Guests: Kathleen Davis is a Producer at Science Friday. Diana Montano is Events Producer at Science Friday. Lauren J. Young is a Digital Producer at Science Friday. Christie Taylor is a Producer at Science Friday. Alexa Lim is Senior Producer at Science Friday. Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Elah Feder. Elah is also our editor and senior producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Robin Palmer helped fact check this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
27 minutes | Mar 16, 2021
Introvert: The Invention Of A Type
In 2013, introverts staged their comeback. For decades, they’d been told to get out of their shells and *smile*, while those showy, gregarious extroverts were held up as the American ideal. But when one author published a kind of introvert’s manifesto, she sparked an introvert pride movement. Since then, the war of the ‘verts has only escalated, with self-identified introverts accusing extroverts of being shallow and incessantly chatty party monsters, and extroverts declaring introverts self-absorbed shut-ins who are just jealous because extroverts are actually happy. (A contention that studies support.) It all feels like a very 21st Century, internet-era drama. But the history of the dubious and divisive introvert-extrovert binary began 100 years ago, when Carl Jung fell out with Sigmund Freud, and tried to make sense of where they’d gone wrong. In the process, Jung coined a couple of new terms, and unleashed an enduring cultural obsession with cramming ourselves into personality boxes. Guests: Dan McAdams is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. Wiebke Bleidorn is a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis. Kelly Egusa is producer Chris Egusa’s sister, and a proud introvert. Footnotes & Further Reading: For an introvert’s manifesto, check out Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.Looking for a personality test backed by science? This one comes closest. Curious about the 18,000 words in “Trait Names: A Psycho-lexical Study”? Read them here. Read the 2019 study that suggests that introverted people feel happier when they force themselves to act extroverted. (And you can also check out a different study from the same year that adds a wrinkle to this finding.) Take a look at a study that analyzes the Big Five personality dimensions as they relate to career success. Credits: This episode was produced by Chris Egusa, Johanna Mayer, and Elah Feder. Elah is our Editor and Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our Composer and did sound design for this episode. They wrote all the music, except for the Timbo March by Tim Garland from the Audio Network. Robin Palmer fact checked this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. This season of Science Diction is sponsored by Audible.
16 minutes | Mar 9, 2021
Mercury: How It Made Cats Dance
In 1953, in the coastal town of Minamata in Japan, locals noticed some cats were acting strangely—twitching, spinning in circles, almost dancing. The reality was far darker. What looked like dancing was really convulsions. The cats drooled, spun in circles, and flung themselves into the sea. The cause of this strange behavior, residents discovered, was mercury. Mercury—a silvery liquid, named for a quick-footed Roman God—has captivated humans since ancient times. It’s found in Egyptian tombs that date to 1500 BCE, and the first emperor of unified China believed it was the elixir of life. But what happens when it invades a town, and seeps into our brains? Footnotes & Further Reading: For this story, we relied heavily on the book Minamata : Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan.Learn how mercury played a pivotal role in pinpointing a key campsite location in the Lewis and Clark expedition. Credits: This episode of Science Diction was written by Kaitlyn Schwalje, and produced by Elah Feder and Johanna Mayer. Elah is our editor and senior producer. Daniel Peterschmidt sound designed this episode and composed all the music, except The Timbo March which is by Tim Garland, from the Audio Network. We had fact checking help from Danya Abdelhameid and Robin Palmer. Nadja Oertelt is our chief content officer. The season of Science Diction is sponsored by Audible.
18 minutes | Mar 2, 2021
Alcohol: History's Favorite Mind-Bending Substance
Vervet monkeys steal it out of people's hands. Chimpanzees in Guinea are known to climb up palm trees and drink it. There’s even a theory that loving it was an important adaptation for our pre-human ancestors, that the smell of fermentation helped them track down very ripe, calorie-rich fruit. Alcohol has been deeply ingrained in our lives from the beginning, possibly since before we were human. And while the drive to drink is older than civilization, many have worked hard to reign it in. In 1920s America, these desires clashed like never before. It’s a story of a battle between chemists, and the unthinkable lengths the U.S. government went to to try to pry away our favorite mind-altering substance. Guest: Deborah Blum is a science writer and journalist. Footnotes & Further Reading: For more on the government poisoning program, check out The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. For more on the “chemist’s war,” read this article by Deborah Blum. Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Elah Feder. Elah is our editor and senior producer. Our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, who also mastered this episode. Special thanks to the Arabic scholar Stephen Guth, and to Kat Eschner. This episode was fact checked by Robin Palmer. Chris Wood contributed sound design. Nadja Oertelt is our chief content officer. This season of Science Diction was sponsored by Audible.
16 minutes | Feb 23, 2021
Robot: Making A Mechanical Mind
In 1920, a Czech writer was stumped. He’d written a play about a future where machines that looked like people do our bidding. They were the perfect workers: obedient, hard working, and never demanded a pay raise. But what was the writer to call these marvelous machines? There wasn’t yet a word for this type of creation. He had initially chosen labori, from the Latin for labor, but something about the word wasn’t quite right. It seemed...stiff, bookish. This play wasn’t just about machines who labored. It was about machines we exploited, relentlessly. And eventually, the writer landed on a word that fit better: Robot. Robot comes from an old Czech word for drudgery and servitude. Though in his play - like so very many robo-dystopias to come - the writer showed that a mind we create to serve us, isn’t necessarily a mind we can control. Footnotes & Further Reading: See more drawings and diagrams in The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by Ismail al-Jazari. Check out some old footage of Unimate, the first worker robot. Credits: This episode was produced by Johanna Mayer, Julia Pistell, and Elah Feder. Elah is our editor and senior producer. We had sound design and mastering from Chris Wood. Our music was composed by Daniel Peterschmidt. Thank you to Craig Cravens, senior lecturer at Indiana University, for helping us with research about Karel Capek. We had fact checking help from Danya AbdelHameid. Nadja Oertelt is our chief content officer. This season of Science Diction is supported by Audible.
15 minutes | Feb 16, 2021
Lunacy: Mind Control From The Sky
On December 5th, 2012, a bill landed on President Barack Obama’s desk, meant to do one thing: remove the word “lunatic” from the federal code. This is because in 2012, you could still find the word in laws about banking and controlling estates, among others. And not only was it offensive, it was antiquated—ancient, in fact. The word lunacy comes from luna—Latin for moon. This is because there was a time when we thought the power to change our moods and minds came from the sky. Guests: Miena Hall is a Family Medicine Resident at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. Jo Marchant is a science journalist and author of The Human Cosmos. Footnotes & Further Reading: For a deep history on “madness,” check out Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine by Andrew Scull. Meta-analyses and literature reviews haven’t backed up a lunar effect on human behavior, but more recent studies have found intriguing patterns. Credits: Science Diction is hosted by Johanna Mayer. This episode was produced by Johanna Mayer, Chris Egusa, and Elah Feder. Elah is our editor and senior producer. Daniel Peterschmidt composed all the music and designed sound for this episode. Chris Wood mastered. We had fact checking by Danya AbdelHameid. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. Special thanks to Andrew Scull, Chiara Thumiger, who studies ancient medicine, and Janet Downie, Associate Professor of classics at UNC Chapel Hill. This season of Science Diction is supported by Audible.
17 minutes | Feb 9, 2021
Mesmerize: The 18th Century Medical Craze Behind the Word
In the late 18th century, a doctor showed up in Paris practicing some very peculiar medicine. He would escort patients into dimly lit rooms, wave his arms over their bodies, and touch them with a magnetic wand. Patients would react to these treatments violently: crying, sweating, convulsing or shrieking. But then they would emerge healed. According to the doctor anyway. Many believed he was a fraud, but despite his dubious methods, this doctor inadvertently gave us a new approach to healing—and a new word: mesmerize. Because the doctor’s name was Franz Anton Mesmer. A depiction of Mesmer’s “treatment” baquets. (Wikimedia Commons) Guests: Emily Ogden is an associate English professor at the University of Virginia. Footnotes & Further Reading: For a deep dive on mesmerism, check out Emily Ogden's book, Credulity: A Cultural History of US Mesmerism. Credits: Science Diction is hosted by Johanna Mayer. This episode was produced by Johanna Mayer, Katie Thornton, and Elah Feder. Elah is our editor and senior producer. We had story editing from Nathan Tobey. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer, and we had sound design from Chris Wood, who also mixed and mastered the episode. Fact checking by Michelle Harris and Danya AbdelHameid. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. This season of Science Diction is supported by Audible.
2 minutes | Feb 2, 2021
Science Diction Returns For Season 3
Science Diction is back with a new season all about mind control—what happens when we decide to create new minds and they refuse to be controlled, why we’ve long believed the moon had the power to control our minds, and the extremes the government has gone to in order to pry us away from our favorite mind-altering substance. The first episode of our new season drops February 9th. Listen to a sneak peek above.
22 minutes | Nov 24, 2020
How Do You Name A Hurricane?
How did we wind up with a storm named Iota? Well, we ran out of hurricane names. Every year, the World Meteorological Organization puts out a list of 21 names for the season’s hurricanes and tropical storms. But this year, the Atlantic hurricane season was so active that by September, we'd flown through the whole list of names and had to switch to the Greek alphabet. Thus, Hurricane Iota became the 30th named storm of the season. We’ve only had to dip into the Greek alphabet once before, in 2005. But the practice of naming hurricanes goes back to the 19th century, and it was a bit of a bumpy ride to land on the system we use today. In this episode: The story of a meteorologist in Australia, a novel, and a second-wave feminist from Florida—and how they brought us hurricane names. Guests: Christina M. Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin.Liz Skilton is a historian and the author of Tempest: Hurricane Naming and American Culture. Footnotes & Further Reading: For more hurricane history, check out A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes by Eric Jay Dolin. To learn more about Roxcy Bolton and the fight to change the naming system, read Liz Skilton’s article “Gendering Natural Disaster: The Battle Over Female Hurricane Names.” Credits: Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Our editor and producer is Elah Feder. We had story editing from Nathan Tobey, and fact checking by Michelle Harris. Our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt. Chris Wood did sound design and mastered the episode. Special thanks to the Florida State Library & Archives for allowing us use footage from Roxcy Bolton’s oral history interview. Nadja Oertelt is our chief content officer.
20 minutes | Oct 16, 2020
Hydrox: How A Cookie Got A Name So Bad
The first Oreo rolled out of Chelsea Market in Manhattan in 1912, but despite the cookie’s popularity today, Oreos weren’t an immediate cookie smash hit. In fact, there was already another cookie on the block that looked remarkably similar to Oreos: two chocolate wafers embossed with laurel leaves, and white cream in the center. This cookie was widely loved, made with the highest quality ingredients, and saddled with a curious name: Hydrox. So how did a cookie get a name so bad? Producer Alexa Lim takes us all the way back to the early 1900s, and brings us a story of the rise - and the crumble - of a cookie named Hydrox. Guests: Carolyn Burns is the owner of The Insight Connection, and a former marketing director for Keebler. Stella Parks is a pastry chef and the author of Brave Tart: Iconic American Desserts. Ellia Kassoff is the CEO of Leaf Brands. Footnotes & Further Reading: For more Hydrox history, check out Brave Tart by Stella Parks. Can’t get enough Hydrox? This is a fun website. Credits: This episode of Science Diction was produced by Alexa Lim, Elah Feder, and Johanna Mayer. Our editor is Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer and contributed sound design. Fact checking by Danya AbdelHameid. Chris Wood mastered the episode. Our Chief Content Officer is Nadja Oertelt.
33 minutes | Sep 22, 2020
How Did The ‘Cosmic Crisp’ Apple Get Its Name?
This fall, there’s a new apple all around town. After 20 years of development, the Cosmic Crisp has landed. In this episode, we’re bringing you a special collaboration with another podcast called The Sporkful. They’re a James Beard Award-winning show that uses food as a lens to talk about science, history, race, culture, and the ideal way to layer the components of a PB&J. This episode is all about the Cosmic Crisp, how scientists developed it, and how it got that dazzling name. Guests: Helen Zaltzman is the host of The Allusionist podcast. Dan Charles is a food and agriculture reporter at NPR. Kate Evans is a horticulturist and the leader of the pome fruit breeding program at Washington State University. Kathryn Grandy is Chief Marketing Officer for Proprietary Variety Management. Footnotes & Further Reading: For more episodes, subscribe to The Sporkful podcast. Credits: The Sporkful is produced by Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Jared O'Connell and Harry Huggins.
17 minutes | Aug 25, 2020
Restaurant: How It All Began
In the 1760s, a new kind of establishment started popping up in Paris, catering to the French and fancy. These places had tables, menus, and servers. They even called themselves “restaurants,” and you might have too, were it not for one key difference: these restaurants were places you went not to eat. Well, not to chew anyway. Because they weren’t in the business of feeding their genteel clientele, but of soothing their frayed nerves —with premium medicinal soups. Soups which were also called “restaurants”! In this episode: How restaurants evolved from a soup to a chic Parisian soup spa to the diverse, loved—and sorely missed—solid food eateries of today. Guests: Rebecca Spang is a professor of history at Indiana University. Stephani Robson is senior lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Footnotes & Further Reading: For more on early bouillon-sipping establishments and the rise of restaurants, take a peek at Rebecca Spang’s book, The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture. Still can’t get enough restaurant history? Check out Dining Out: A Global History of Restaurants. If you, like Stephani Robson, are passionate about optimal chair spacing, check out one of her studies on the subject. To see some of Stephani’s work in action, listen to this collaborative episode from Planet Money and The Sporkful, on “The Great Data-Driven Restaurant Makeover.” Credits: Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Elah Feder is our editor and producer. We had story editing from Nathan Tobey. Daniel Peterschmidt contributed sound design and wrote all our music, except the accordion piece which was by Dana Boulé and the final piece by Jazz at the Mladost Club. We had research help from Cosmo Bjorkenheim. Chris Wood mastered the episode, and we had fact checking by Michelle Harris. Special thanks to Gregg Rapp for talking to us about menu engineering. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
21 minutes | Aug 18, 2020
Umami: A Century Of Disbelief
Salty, sweet, sour, bitter. Scientists once thought these were the only tastes, but in the early 20th century, a Japanese chemist dissected his favorite kombu broth and discovered one more: umami. In recent years, umami has become a foodie buzzword, but for nearly a century, the Western world was in full-blown umami denial—didn’t believe it existed. And we might have stayed that way if it weren’t for our most notorious and potent source of umami: MSG. A 1930s advertisement for Ajinomoto. (Courtesy of the Science History Institute.) Advertising brochure from the late 1940s until the early 1950s for Ac'cent, an MSG product manufactured by the International Minerals & Chemical Corporation. (Courtesy of the Science History Institute.) Kikunae Ikeda, who proposed the idea of umami as a fifth basic taste. (Wikimedia Commons) Guest: Nirupa Chaudhari is a professor of physiology & biophysics at the University of Miami. Kumiko Ninomiya is the director of the Umami Information Center. Footnotes & Further Reading: Special thanks to Sarah Tracy for some background on MSG in the United States. Read a translation of Kikunae Ikeda's original manuscript in Journal of the Chemical Society of Tokyo. "A Short History Of MSG" discusses Ajinomoto's marketing techniques, as well as reception of MSG in the United States and around the globe. If you're dying to see the Mr. Umami video mentioned in this story, watch it here. Hear more chefs gushing over umami at the Austin Food & Wine Festival. Credits: Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Elah Feder is our editor and producer. Nathan Tobey contributed story editing, and Kaitlyn Schwalje contributed writing and research. Thanks also to Lauren J. Young and Attabey Rodríguez Benítez for research help. Our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and they also did sound design. Chris Wood mastered this episode. We had fact checking from Michelle Harris. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
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