03 August 2005

Podcast Talk: The Word Nerds

The Word Nerds is exactly what the title implies: a weekly podcast for people who love to get down and dirty with the origins of our everyday language. Dave Shepherd is the tech guy (or Node Nerd, as he refers to himself) who records the podcasts and he is usually joined by either Howard Chang in studio or Howard Shepherd via Skype. It didn't take Dave long to smooth out the production of this show. By the fifth episode, it started sounding like something found on NPR. His delivery smoothed out a bit as well, although he still tends to ramble a bit when he is doing the show by himself.

Howard Shepherd is Dave's brother. He lives in Asheville, NC where he is a high school English teacher. He is well-spoken with a delivery that reminds me a bit of a minister. Considering that his father is a minister, this isn't far off the mark. His segments with his brother Dave sound like a genial game of Dueling Dictionaries as they pick a word or category of words and consult several sources to determine the origins.

About halfway through each 30-minute podcast, just as your brain is about to explode with all its newfound knowledge, Dave is merciful and introduces the listeners to a song that he discovered on GarageBand. His taste leans toward jazz and jazz-flavored pop, which also adds to the NPR feel. My playlist is filled with gaming podcasts and they always seem to play headbanging music with a screaming frontman, so the female voices that Dave features are a welcome change.

Another regular feature is the Rude Word of the Week. Here the WNs usually focus on a word that used to be very rude but is now part of everyday parlance, such as schmuck. It was interesting to learn the etymology of the word crap and to hear the reaction of Dave's students when they found out what they were meant to be sucking when someone tells them, "You suck!"

Last but not least, there is Howard Chang, the lawyer-turned-Latin teacher. Ah, Howard Chang! I could listen to that man talk all day. His words just flow effortlessly. If he is reading from note cards, I can't tell. He sounds as though all this knowledge is committed to memory. He makes learning about words playful and sexy. I briefly took Latin in junior high, but I bet I would have stuck with it if he had been my teacher.

I have one word of caution about this show. If you usually listen to podcasts by streaming them straight from the website, you may have a bit of a problem. The site takes a while to load, especially when I tried to access the archives. You will experience less frustration if you subscribe to the RSS feed.
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