Virginia Prescott

Host, Word of Mouth

Virginia Prescott is the Gracie Award-winning host of Word of Mouth, Civics 101, The 10-Minute Writers Workshop podcasts, and the Writers on A New England Stage series on New Hampshire Public Radio. Prior to joining NHPR, she was editor, producer, and director for NPR programs On Point and Here & Now, and directed interactive media for New York Public Radio.

Throughout her radio career, Virginia has worked to build sustainable independent radio in the developing world and has trained journalists in post-conflict zones from Sierra Leone to the Balkans. She has been honored for her contributions with a Gracie award for her work on Word of Mouth, a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University, and was a member of the Peabody Award-winning production team for Jazz from Lincoln Center with Ed Bradley. Virginia loves working in public radio, but regrets that so many good outfits go unnoticed.


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Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Prince of Darkness…whatever he's called, some seventy percent of Americans believe in the existence of the Devil. That’s according to a 2007 Gallup Poll, and that number has increased steadily since 1990, when only fifty-five percent believed in evil personified in the form of Satan.

Now, researchers are looking at the implications of belief in “pure evil” on psychological and social behaviors.  Piercarlo Valdesolo is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Claremont Mckenna College and contributor to Scientific American’s “Mind Matters” blog, where we found his article, “The Psychological Power of Satan.” 

Rebecca Lavoie for NHPR

In German, there's an expression for kicking through piles of leaves, and for the conviction that all large houses must have secret passages. In other words, Germans have expressions for things we don't, and they're pretty great. Just think about the ones we've adopted without thought, like 'Wanderlust.' 

Author Ben Schott’s Miscellanies  and annual almanacs have sold millions and been translated into more than a dozen languages. Now, he’s completed a compendium of compounds to describe the inexpressible. It’s called Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Spoiler Alert!

If you have not seen “The Empire Strikes Back,” Darth Vader reveals a shocking secret to Luke Skywalker:

"Luke, I am your father."


Now, think back, did that scene completely surprise you, or did someone tell you it was coming? Since the film came out in 1980, we’re pretty sure that we didn’t ruin it for you. Today, however, spoilers flourish on social media where there are no rules for revealing the surprising twists and plot devices in movies or T.V. shows. Chris Klimek has come up with some guidelines for reviewers, he’s a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Slate, The Washington Post, and The Village Voice, where we found his taxonomy and guidelines, “The Four Types of Spoilers and How Reviewers Should Handle Them.”

Larry Darling via flickr Creative Commons

The afternoons are getting darker, the trees are bare, and the furnace is snapping on; it’s November in New England. A time when we shift indoors and enjoy some quiet before the holidays are upon us. It’s also a great time for movies, when the studios trot out their Oscar contenders and the crush of holiday blockbusters have yet to arrive with guns blaring and special effects thrusting. 

Amy Diaz is editor and film critic for The Hippo, she and film consultant and commentator, Garen Daly are with us to talk movies. Specifically what you see between now and Thanksgiving.

In the spirit of thinking about how we eat over what we eat, a team at Cornell University conducted a study to see how we can make the buffet—that most tempting and often fattening arrays of food — into part of a balanced breakfast.

Dr. Andrew Hanks is a researcher for the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

Logan Shannon / NHPR

The rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been called many things – smooth is not one of them.  Once attention shifted from the government shutdown to the October 1st launch of the website, pundits, reporters, and politicians on both sides of the aisle have condemned glitches and delays as irresponsible and ultimately, unnecessary.  We decided to play a little thought experiment…what if, instead of the government, one of America’s tech giants had been in charge of the site for applying for and purchasing health insurance?  What if instead of, we had “i-healthcare?”  “Or Google Health?”  What if Mark Zuckerberg were asked to spearhead the “Facebook Health Exchange?”

Joining me to speculate on how the rollout might have gone differently is Rob Fleischman, Chief Technology Officer at Xero-Cole, and our regular oracle of all things digital. Also joining us is David Ewalt, senior editor at Forbes who writes about technology, games, space and other geeky stuff.

Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons

PolitiFact won a Pulitzer Prize for fact-checking statements made by politicians, lobbyists and special interest groups.  Their new venture called PunditFact will cast a wider net to rate the veracity of talking heads, bloggers and columnists…a pretty big job in the blustery airspace of opinion journalism. 

Aaron Sharockman is Deputy Government and Politics Editor for the Tampa Bay Times. He is also a writer and editor for Politifact.

Linus Bohman

Listening to Word of Mouth's Saturday broadcast is like sitting around a campfire and chatting with a bunch of super-smart, super-interesting people.  So go sharpen a stick, grab your bag of marshmallows and pull up a log - here's what's coming up this hour:

  • The Science of Superstition:  Psychologist Stuart Vyse explains the collective power of the Red Sox beards.
  • MORE COWBELL!!!  From Strauss to Def Leppard, writer Lori Rotenberk traces the musical history of the cowbell.
  • A Grimm Cinderella Story:  Author Adam Gidwitz shares the original gruesome version of the classic fairy tale, and explains why Disney has done the Brothers Grimm a disservice.
  • #NoFilter: Brian Ries, social media guru for The Daily Beast, on how a growing number of private dealers are legally selling guns on Instagram
  • WHEN JELLYFISH ATTACK!  They're clogging nuclear reactors, capsizing ships, wiping out fish populations, and causing cerebral hemorrhages... So basically, jellyfish are scarier than sharks.  There, I said it.  Quartz reporter Gwynn Guilford explains.

Halloween is a perfect time for ghost stories and fairy-tales. Yes...fairy tales. But not the sanitized stuff of Disney Princesses,  but the grisly, violent, cautionary tales from which they were derived. 

Of course, scary stories are told best by Word of Mouth, so we invited author Adam Gidwitz to share the rather horrible story of “Ashputtle,” or as you might know her, Cinderella. It’s one of the tales from his new book, The Grimm Conclusionthe third volume of delightfully dark, vividly re-told stories originally written by the Brothers Grimm.

Christine Zenino via Flickr Creative Commons

Visitors to Salem, Massachusetts, have a surfeit of choices in Halloween season. They can take a “Tales and Tombstones Trolley Tour,” attend the Zombie Prom, Voodoo Ball, or a performance of “Dracula’s Guest.”

The real terror that coursed through the Massachusetts Bay colony from 1692 to ’93 was not the stuff of a night out with the family. More than two hundred people were accused of witchcraft by their neighbors. Nineteen were hanged. Another was pressed to death. Five women died in prison.  Historian Marilynne Roach examines the lives of individuals swept up in the trials through surviving documents, invoices, and objects. Her new book is called Six Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials.

madlyinlovewithlife via flickr Creative Commons

In early October, one of the largest nuclear reactors in the world was forced to shut down after a swarm of jellyfish flooded and clogged its water cooling pipes. The bloom of jellyfish that devastated Sweden’s Oskarshamn nuclear plant is symptomatic of a global problem. Research out of the University of British Columbia shows a sixty-two percent increase in jellyfish blooms since 1950. Proliferation of the species has been crippling fishing and tourism all over the world and blooms are increasing in frequency, intensity and duration. Gwynn Guilford reported on the proliferation, which appears in large part to be related to the impact of humans on the oceans; her article appeared in Quartz.

Barbara via flickr Creative Commons

There are between 800,000 and 1.2 million moose in North America, but scientists are concerned that their numbers are shrinking – and fast. Moose populations from New Hampshire to Minnesota have been plummeting for years – as much as twenty-five percent each year in some cases – and while there are plenty of theories, nobody’s quite sure why.

Jim Robbins is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the New York Times. He wrote about the moose die-off for the Times’ environment section.

Courtesy Bushor Photography

Since its premiere in 1899, Anton Chekov’s play Uncle Vanya has been adapted for stages all over the world. Originally about a family property in eastern Russia, it’s been re-set in the English lake district in the 1930s, at an abandoned theater on Manhattan’s 42nd Street, and a post-apocalyptic interpretation set in Hawaii after a zombie attack.

Now, Kent Stephens, founding artistic director of Stage Force Productions, is bringing Uncle Vanya to the Maine coast.  Stephen’s relocates the bored, begrudging family members to the banks of the Androscoggin – bringing 21st Century concerns of environment and land policy issues to the fore. Uncle Vanya in Maine opens this Friday, November 1st, and runs until the 10th, at the Star Theater in Kittery, Maine.

For more than four hundred years, the works of William Shakespeare have given us language to describe the human condition. The Bard’s works have been interpreted on countless stages, film and television adaptations, and pulled apart in classrooms and campuses all over the world. As the theses count and analyses dedicated to Shakespeare continue to grow, a few academics question if there’s anything new to say about Shakespeare. That’s also the title of an article by Matthew Reisz, reporter and features writer for the Times of London’s Higher Education blog, covering intellectual affairs in the arts and social sciences.

Photo of Nicholson Baker courtesy the Poetry Foundation

Author Nicholson Baker joins us to talk about his recurring character Paul Chowder. The procrastinating poet first tuned up in Baker's novel The Anthologist, and is now the center of his latest book, Traveling Sprinkler.

Photo courtesy Christopher Lamb

The 2014 winter Olympics begin on February seventh in Sochi, Russia. Until this week, talk about the games focused on worries that there might not be enough snow, and international criticism and threats to boycott the games because of Russia’s law banning what it called “homosexual propaganda.” On Monday, President Vladimir Putin reversed course and said that everyone will be welcome to Sochi. As to the snow, there are no certain answers.

Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons

Last night, those Red Sox beards came through once again, with the Sox taking a 3-2 lead over St. Louis in the World Series. There’s no telling what role the beards that first showed up during spring training have played in getting the hirsute Sox to the World Series, but Fenway park isn’t the only place where people turn to superstition to swing the odds in their favor. And as it turns out, superstition might play a role in success.

Photo by: KarinaEmm

Mike Napoli’s three-run double in the first inning of last night’s World Series opener put the Red Sox on the path for an 8 to 1 drubbing of the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park.  The cardinals committed three costly errors and lost star right fielder  Carlos Beltran who injured himself running into Fenway’s unusually low right field wall -- while making a spectacular catch, that robbed David Ortiz of a grand slam.  That is just one of the quirks of Fenway, the old-school ball park that throbbed with sox fans last night. It’s one of few remaining fields in the nation that isn’t named for a bank, or a drink. Fenway has a personality--and a history--today’s sox fans sit in the same spot where even more raucous fans sat in in 1912, when Fenway Park opened its doors.

Glenn Stout tells the story of the idiosyncratic park’s construction, christening and enduring charm in the book “Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ball Park, A Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year”.  We spoke to him last year when the book came out...and pulled it from the archives today…a great day to celebrate Fenway Park . / Fiell Publishing

With over twenty years of experience on the editorial side of design publishing, Charlotte and Peter Fiell are pioneers in bringing great design to the masses with big, beautiful glossy books. Their first book together, “Modern Design Classics Since 1945”, was published twenty-two years ago and introduced mid-century modern furniture to a new generation of design lovers and novices.

They are also the former editors-in-chief for the best-selling design imprint Taschen. Three years ago the design power couple established their own line of art and design books—Goodman Fiell—which publishes titles written by the couple in addition to books written by experts across a wide range of disciplines; from art and architecture to natural history and popular culture.

Ingo Lütkebohle via flickr Creative Commons

One of comedian Will Ferrell’s most memorable Saturday Night Live characters was musician Gene Frenkle, the belly shirted cowbell player from the ‘70s rock band, Blue Ӧyster Cult. His cowbell playing was intoxicating and hilarious and prompted this now quotable line: "I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell."

That line, delivered by Christopher Walken, catapulted onto t- shirts and bumper stickers, and helped put the instrument designed for agriculture into the mainstream musical spotlight. But where did cowbell come from? And how did it migrate from the farm to the recording studio? Chicago based journalist Lori Rotenberk  wrote an article for Modern Farmer called “More Cowbell: From Herdsman’s Tool to Cultural Icon.

kardboard604 via flickr Creative Commons

The data on driving is that for nearly a decade, Americans are driving less – especially younger drivers. With an added drop in vehicle sales and issued driver licenses, some researchers and reporters suggest that the US may have passed “peak car” – and that America’s infatuation with driving may have hit its zenith in the 1990s.

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he wrote about the concept of “peak car”.

Emily Badger, is a staff writer for The Atlantic Cities, she’s also covered the “peak car” phenomenon.

Logan Shannon

Sci-fi and comic book conventions are known for attracting flamboyantly costumed fans, But nobody needs an excuse to dress up for Halloween. We know how much work it takes to put a great costume together – especially if making it by hand and the best-laid plans are easily trumped by the temptation to pick up an outfit at the Halloween pop-up.

We’d like to hear about your fantasy Halloween costume: if time and money were unlimited – what would you cook up? Medusa? Hair crawling with snakes? Chewbacca, with no hair out of place? A transformer that actually transforms? Or something a little higher concept?


If the number one comedy on prime time TV is any indication –the CBS show The Big Bang Theory holds the coveted title--nerds are experiencing a kind of cultural renaissance. Despite the increased popularity of sci-fi conventions, cos-play, and board games, finding a mate who shares a love of all things nerdy can still be a challenge. Enter the cupid of nerds, Ryan Glitch, the creator and president of “Sci-Fi Speed Dating.” Glitch launched his speed dating enterprise in 2010 at a Star Wars convention and he’s been making matches at cons ever since.  IGN, a popular gaming and entertainment web site has created a web series about Ryan’s enterprise, called “Geek Love” which airs on their YouTube channel.

Logan Shannon

Each month the husband and wife duo, Robin MacArthur and Tyler Gibbons, from Marlboro, Vermont write and record a song to be released on the day of the full moon. The beautifully layered, tunes have a backwoods feel are recorded in a barn, and sent out to subscribers. It’s an intimate and unique take on the ever growing DIY music scene.  They joined us in studio back in July to talk about their album and to play live in Studio D.

marydw1 via flickr Creative Commons

It’s been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Here at Word of Mouth we also see the value in a good breakfast but for perhaps different reasons. Just before we start an interview, we ask all of our guests to tell us their name, their title and divulge what they ate for breakfast. It’s a great way to ensure their sound levels are good, but as a special bonus, we also end up with insight into the morning routines of some very interesting people.

Viewminder via flickr Creative Commons

Education policy in the U.S. is currently laser-focused on engaging students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math—or “STEM” subjects. The goal is to prepare future generations to prosper in the new global economy. But where do the creative arts fit into this equation? How can art and music education help drive innovation? Eric Booth is a pioneer in art education, and is the author of several books, including, “The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible.” He is also an artist, an actor, and musician and is widely referred to as the father of the teaching artist profession.


Edgar Oliver has a voice you’ll never forget: part Bela Lugosi, part Count Chocula. You may have heard him tell stories of growing up in Savannah in the 1960s, with a smothering, compulsive mother who shared her paranoid, terrified state with her children, Helen and Edgar. His tales of growing up are pulled together in  “Helen and Edgar”, a kind of a spoken memoir being performed at Dartmouth’s Warner Bentley Theater at 7:00pm tonight and Wednesday.

Aaron Joel Santos / Novus Select via

The scoville scale is used to measure how spicy as pepper or chili is. The jalapeno can have a rating as high as 8,000 units, and for many sensitive palates, that’s plenty. The world’s hottest peppers approach an incredible 1.5 million scoville units – so hot, a tribe in northeast India consumes them for sport. Best-selling science writer Mary Roach visited the Naga tribes to observe their competitive and cultural history with the scorching Naga King Chili.  Roach is author of many books – most recently is Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal… and she wrote about the Naga King Chili for Smithsonian magazine.

kiss kiss bang bang via Flickr Creative Commons

In 1994, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine confirmed what anybody who’s tried to give up coffee suspected: caffeine is chemically addictive. It’s also the world’s most popular psychoactive drug… 80% of American adults consume it in some form. Withdrawal symptoms from caffeine are so dreadful that they are cited as a mental disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Here to unpack the chemical effect that caffeine can have on the human brain is Joseph Stromberg, journalist and science writer based in Washington, D.C. His work has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine and Slate.

davidking via flickr Creative Commons

Ever feel like the only way things get done in Washington is if there's a crisis? You're not alone. Bipartisanism is driving moderates out of the Senate according to a recent editorial from the Star Tribune.  Charles Wheelan is senior lecturer at Dartmouth, and the author of several books including Naked Economics. His newest is called The Centrist Manifesto and it’s the basis for a new centrist party designed to break congressional gridlock, find consensus, and restore faith in American politics.