Jeannette_Rankin_portrait rec
“In a clear, steady voice, Rankin voted “No,”. The packed House Chamber erupted with boos and jeers. President Roosevelt had just addressed the joint session of the 77th United States Congress. The 82 Senators present came together with 389 Representatives on the floor of the House. They had joined to […]

Would you give peace a chance? Congress’s lone world war pacifist

09 08 16 The Allusionist - Episode 40 - Olympics
Helen Zaltzman presents … the Etymolympics! Her adventures in language take on the world’s largest sporting event. What are the origins of words such as ‘stadium’, ‘hurdles’, ‘steeplechase’ and, of course, ‘Olympic’. It is just a short podcast this week but packed with sporting etymology. It is presented as a spoof […]

The Allusionist | Episode 40 – Olympics

DH.89 Dragon Rapide (G-AEML) at Kemble Airport Open Day, Gloucestershire, England, 9th September 2007. Built in 1936. Photographed by Adrian Pingstone and placed in the public domain.
Just after 7am on 11 July 1936, Captain Cecil Bebb prepared his plane for take-off. At quarter past seven, Captain Bebb, along with his navigator Major Hugh Pollard and two female friends, launched into the air from London’s Croydon Airport. Bebb’s de Havilland Dragon Rapide biplane headed south by southwest. His flight would […]

The Englishman who started the Spanish Civil War

British Airship R101
Scores of people died when the airship burst into flames. It crashed into the ground just over 50 miles away from one of the world’s most important cities. Its demise marked the end of a national programme of airship construction and the death of an imperial dream. But this is […]

A dream that burst into flames – the British Hindenburg disaster

Raining cats and dogs and buckets and barrels and knives and forks and frogs and old women and trolls and pipes and rope
How close are we to the universal translators that pepper science fiction? Will Google Translate be the technological equivalent of Douglas Adams’s babel fish? For simple sentences, the service works well. Google Translate can even master complicated documents or, at least, provide enough to make sense of the text. One […]

Whipping the cat and lining your eyes with ham – idioms lost ...

Trebuchet in Castelnaud, France by Luc Viatour /
Stirling Castle is a striking, man made addition to an already formidable natural fortress. Sheer cliffs thrust up from the rolling Scottish Lowlands. The thick castle walls extend these solid quartz-dolerite foundations towards the sky. It is imposing and seems impregnable. It probably was, at least until Warwolf came to […]

Warwolf – King Edward’s secret weapon to hammer the Scots

Ballot used for Austrian referendum, 1938 See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On Sunday, Greeks will go to the polls to vote in a crucial referendum. The politics are fraught, the media is frenzied and accusations and recriminations are already flying. The ballot paper has attracted plenty of attention, both inside and outside of Greece. The question is detailed and, to eyes […]

Framing the question – history’s lessons for winning and losing referenda

The Euro monument outside the ECB in Frankfurt, Germany By This photo (C) Lars Aronsson (Own work) [CC SA 1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Sovereign debt default was a lot more common when it was literally sovereigns defaulting. Kings liked money. They didn’t like paying it back. So, quite often, they didn’t. In the richest economies, default has become rare. One of the reasons the Greek financial crisis is dominating headlines and moving markets […]

Which European country tops the sovereign default league table?