Omar Shaikh

Ice Cream

Is ice cream one word? Two? Listen to a radio show on linguistics/NLP/random fun facts to learn more?

I’m thinking of starting a live radio show on random fun facts. I need to pitch it to a program director at WREK (GT’s radio station), so I figured I’d just make it a blog post of random episode ideas. The gist of this show is to talk about random (probably linguistic) phenomena people don’t really think about on a day-to-day basis, and highlight complexity behind things we take for granted.

I’m definitely going for something light-hearted here—having a guest on to banter with about a specific phenomenon is a potential option. Finally, I want this to be accessible to everyday listeners, so no/limited technical jargon. If I do introduce anything, it should be explained clearly. I want people to call in and give their own examples of phenomena we can discuss!

Right, here are some episode ideas:

What even is a word?

A roommate (Joel) and I actually piloted a minute long version of this interaction during a radio shift. Here’s the question I pitched him on air: is ice cream / ice-cream one word or two words?

Here’s a (lame) recreation of how the interaction went:

Omar: So, here’s a question: ice cream. One word or two?

Joel: Two.

Omar: But like, why?

Joel: Space. Ice SPACE cream.

Omar: Ice cream means more than ice and cream though. It’s not like whipped cream, where you’re literally just whipping cream. You’re not just icing cream.

Joel: There’s still ice in the cream though. Ice and cream. Ice cream.

Omar and Joel: [bunch of stuff about how ice cream has no stress on ice, and how linguists don’t use spaces for wordhood + random banter and other words]

There’s so much complexity in wordhood that people just take for granted. For starters, spaces aren’t an accurate indication of when a word starts or ends. There are a bunch of phonological and semantic requirements that are associated with what makes a word a word. I’m definitely not going to mention maximal projections or formal constraints behind wordhood, since that’ll bore or alienate listeners.

For curious readers: what about White House? Wanna? Butt(-)cheeks? Shit(-)show?

F**king expletives.

Oh, I’m a big f**king fan of this one.

Where can you put swear words in a sentence? Sure, swearing is really versatile—you can put the f-word d*mn near anywhere, but there are some syntactic constraints. For example, “I’ll slowly f**king read” doesn’t sound right.

Also, what do swear words mean to you? Do you think they’re inherently toxic? How are they semantically and syntactically different from intensifiers, like really and truly? For example, you can stack some intensifiers (“that’s really really cool”) but not expletives (“that’s f**king f**king cool”). Also, why can you infix expletives in English, but not other words (un-f**king-believable)?

I’m aiming for this to be a brief intro to expressive/descriptive semantics, packaged in a discussion about swearing. This will probably be an after-midnight episode since it’ll be “explicit.”


Why did that ad persuade you? The last time I looked at rhetoric was probably in High School English (remember ethos, pathos, and logos?). This episode is going to take a closer look at rhetoric in the context of persuasive advertising. I’ll touch on rhetoric in food advertising and online communities. I’m thinking about glancing over some of my own advisor’s (Diyi Yang) work, which would make for a fun episode involving…


This one should be fun! I could invite random faculty/students that are working on something interesting, and just hold a casual Q&A for a bit. I think I could do around 4-5 of these episodes fairly easily.

Is this a real fun fact?

Make some facts up, come to the show, and try to bluff your way through. Each player takes turns proposing their real/fake fun fact, and the rest of the committee takes a vote after 15 minutes of questioning. I think this idea is inspired by a game show, but I can’t remember which one.

TL;DR / Conclusion

I need around an hour a week to talk someone’s ear off about random stuff (linguistics / other things). That should get it out of my system :D I should have an entire semester of episode ideas!