03/13/2020

Introducing Our New Podcast: Science Diction

4:44 minutes

four illustrations tiled on a red background. from left to right, an illustration of a blue rock with devil horns and a tail, a t rex skull with a lizard on top, a syringe with a small medical vial that is cow printed, and replicating square featuring a cartoon cat face
Illustrations by Rose Wong

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.


There are words we use every day for common things or ideas—meme, vaccine, dinosaur—but where did those words come from? Sometimes, there’s a scientific backstory.

Take the word quarantine, now in the news due to widespread infection control measures. Did you know that it comes from quarantino, a 40-day isolation period for arriving ships—which originally was a trentino, a 30-day period, established in what is now Croatia in the plague-stricken 1340’s?

Science Friday’s word nerd Johanna Mayer joins Ira to talk about the origins of the word quarantine, and how she flips through science history and culture to tell us these stories in her new podcast Science Diction. 

The first season of Science Diction is now available! Listen and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts.


Calling all word nerds! Sign up for an email about words and language, and updates about the Science Diction podcast.

Segment Guests

Johanna Mayer

Johanna Mayer is the host of 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.

Meet the Producers and Host

About Charles Bergquist

As Science Friday’s director, Charles Bergquist channels the chaos of a live production studio into something sounding like a radio program. Favorite topics include planetary sciences, chemistry, materials, and shiny things with blinking lights.

About Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science FridayHis green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.

Explore More

The Origin Of The Word ‘Quarantine’

'Trentino' just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Read More

The Origin Of The Word ‘Alcohol’

"The cause of (and solution to) all life’s problems” is derived from Arabic. But the word 'alcohol' originally referred to a method of manufacturing makeup, among other things.

Read More