Science Diction: Knock On Wood And Tsunami

The origin of a superstitious phrase, and a Japanese word that’s staked its place in English.

cartoonish slice of wood featuring tree rings against wine-colored and paper-textured background
Credit: Shutterstock

design of typewriter with text 'science diction'Science Diction is a bite-sized podcast about words—and the science stories behind them. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and sign up for our newsletter.

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Journalists Kevin McLean and Shalina Chatlani join us for a round of Diction Dash, where Johanna tries—and usually fails—to guess the true meaning or origin of a word.    

If you’re curious about a word, 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

A transcript of this episode is being processed and will be available within a week.


Kevin McLean is a producer at the Science Communication Lab based in Davis, California. 

Shalina Chatlani is the health care reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom.

Footnotes & Further Reading:

Read the full study on the link between a desire for control, and reliance on superstitions under stress.


This episode was produced by Daniel Peterschmidt, Johanna Mayer, and Senior Producer Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer and mastered this episode. We had fact checking help from Robin Palmer. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.   

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Meet the Writers

About Johanna Mayer

Johanna Mayer is a podcast producer and hosts Science Diction from Science Friday. When she’s not working, she’s probably baking a fruit pie. Cherry’s her specialty, but she whips up a mean rhubarb streusel as well.

About Elah Feder

Elah Feder is a senior producer for podcasts at Science Friday. She produces the Science Diction podcast, and co-hosted and produced the Undiscovered podcast.

About Daniel Peterschmidt

Daniel Peterschmidt is a digital producer and composes music for Science Friday’s podcasts, including Science Diction and Undiscovered. Their D&D character is a clumsy bard named Chip Chap Chopman.

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