December 15 is the most important day in the calendar for people who speak Esperanto. It is Zamenhof Day, named after the man who dreamed up the idea of a language that the entire planet would one day speak. L.L. Zamenhof (that’s him in center of the photo, the one staring at the camera) was born 150 years ago. Though his dream was never realized, Esperanto is still spoken — in fact it’s undergoing something of a revival in the internet age. We consider the failure and success of Esperanto, first in a piece I reported for the Big Show on December 15, and then in an interview with Princeton English professor Esther Schor, who’s writing a book on Esperanto. In the piece, you’ll hear from Arika Okrent, author of the fabulous In the Land of Invented Languages. To listen to an extended interview with Okrent on Esperanto, Klingon, Blissymbolics and other made-up languages from July 2009, go here. Also in the piece, listen out for a clip from the 1965 Esperanto language movie Incubus, starring the incomparable William Shatner. Shatner delivers his Esperanto lines in that same jig-jaggy way as he does English on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Other BBC stories on Esperanto are here and here.
After our Esperanto extravaganza, we consider why the Irish parliament bans words such as guttersnipe and brat, but permits certain swearwords. We know this because Irish MP Paul Gogarty recently dropped the F-bomb — and not in a particularly jocular manner — in the Dáil. We get the back story of why certain words — another is yahoo — cannot be uttered in the Irish parliament from Harry McGee of the Irish Times. A document called Salient Rulings of the House lists all manner of old-fashioned expressions as no-nos in debate. The f-word is not among them.
Finally, a follow-up to a previous podcast in which Carol Hills and I talked about baby names that don’t translate well into certain foreign languages. After that , a Norwegian pod-listener wrote in with some alarming news: if your name is Mark, expect to be teased in Norway. And under no crcumstances name your child Musa. It’s apparently a popular name in Turkey. In Norwegian it refers, coarsely, to female genitalia.