Episode 203 – Ben Yagoda

Virtual Memories Show 203: Ben Yagoda

“It’s fun for me to find stories that haven’t been told and tell them for the first time.”

Author Ben Yagoda joins the show to talk about teaching journalism, 40 years (!) of writing language columns, the influence of Harry Potter own his students, the history of the memoir, the mystery of why the “Great American Songbook” withered after WWII, his hatred of the term “creative nonfiction”, the invasion of Britishisms into American English, our shared history in the Make-Believe Ballroom, the challenges of watching sporting events on tape delay, and more! (Also, I talk a little about the refugee-ban protests of the past weekend.) Give it a listen! And go buy The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Ben Yagoda recently retired from teaching English, journalism and writing at the University of Delaware, and is the author, coauthor or editor of nine books. He has written about language, writing and other topics for Slate.com, the New York Times Book Review and Magazine, The American Scholar, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and many other publications. He contributes to Lingua Franca, a Chronicle of Higher Education blog about language and writing and Draft, a New York Times blog about the art of writing. His personal blog is Not One-Off Britishisms. He is on Twitter as @byagoda. He lives in Swarthmore, PA.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Yagoda’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Yagoda by me. It’s on my instagram, along with a double-selfie of us.

Podcast: Putting the “Pro” in Profanity

Jesse Sheidlower talks slang on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 9 – Putting the “Pro” in Profanity

“Language is a proxy for our thoughts. And if you’re upset by something, it’s usually not the words but the underlying concept. We’re squeamish about sex, about excrement. We don’t like for our gods to be insulted. These are perfectly normal things to care about.”

Lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower joins us to talk about his work at the Oxford English Dictionary, the process of pitching The F-Word, how what we find offensive has changed over time, the ways words get into the language, the OED’s transition to digital, the roots of “dropping an F-bomb”, the value of kids’ texting habits, and the importance of hosting dinner parties and wearing fine suits. Plus, you get to listen to me obsess over word choices and still embarrass myself!

“Many things that people bring up as signaling the end of language as we know it tend to mean the exact opposite.”

Note: if you’re uptight or sensitive about F-words, N-words, or other “strong” language, don’t listen to this episode.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out our archives for more great talk!

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunesFacebookTumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Jesse Sheidlower is currently the President of the American Dialect Society and Editor at Large (North America) of the Oxford English Dictionary, where he has been since 1999. His current responsibilities focus chiefly on the revision of American and Canadian entries for the OED. He is also the author of The F-Word, a detailed historical study of the word fuck. He has been profiled on the front page of The New York Times and on 60 Minutes, and New York Magazine has named him one of the 100 smartest people in New York. Before he joined the OED, he was an editor in the Random House Reference Department, specializing in slang and new words. While there he was also project editor of the Historical Dictionary of American Slang. For more information, visit jessesword.com.

Credits: This episode’s music is Word Up by Cameo. The conversation was recorded at Jesse’s home in NYC on a pair of AT2020 mics, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB mic into Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Photo by Miss Scorpio.

What It Is: 9/28/09

What I’m reading: The new issue of Fantastic Man. Because I’m a fantastic man.

What I’m listening to: Essential Michael Jackson.

What I’m watching: A bunch of NFL, and The Rachel Zoe Project, which remarkably didn’t make me feel appreciably dumber. I guess it’s partly because, outside of the silly reality-show dramafication, the show also contains enough of the day-to-day aspects of Zoe’s job to be a little informative.

What I’m drinking: Red wine, although I don’t recall any of the labels. I didn’t drink too much during the conference-evenings, which is good. We took out a bunch of our event sponsors on Thursday night, and I managed to keep it down to 1.25 G&Ts, because our restaurant only had Tanqueray Ten on hand.

What Rufus is up to: According to my wife, he was pining for me while I was away at the conference. Thursday was the first time we used a dog-walker since Rufus got attacked last May. My brother took him outside once when he was here in July, but otherwise, it’s been me and/or Amy every day for 4+ months. Ru & the walker were fine.

Where I’m going: Nowhere, but my pals Ian & Jess are coming in for an overnight on Friday; we’re planning to take ’em to one of our favorite restaurants before seeing them on their way bright and early Saturday morning.

What I’m happy about: Our conference went off without a hitch! It just goes to show you what four micro-managing control freaks can accomplish when they all pull together! (Also, Crumb’s Book of Genesis is supposed to show up at my door sometime today! I’ll have some post-Yom Kippur reading that’ll actually be kinda Jew-y!)

What I’m sad about: Bill Safire died. And I’ve already started thinking about the speaker lineup for next year’s conference.

What I’m worried about: One of my speakers won’t show up.

What I’m pondering: Whether my body will manage to mistake nicotine (in the form of Ozona snuff) for the caffeine that I’m doing without for my Yom Kippur fast. I doubt it, but that’s why it’s a day of afflictions.