Word of Mouth

Word of Mouth airs at 2 pm Monday through Thursday, weeknights at 9 pm, and noon on Sunday.

Word of Mouth is the sound of new ideas, hosted by Virginia Prescott, and produced by Molly Donahue, Logan Shannon, and Megan Tan. Our Senior Producer is Taylor Quimby, and our Executive Producer is Maureen McMurray

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At 5,525 miles, the US and Canadian border is the longest and friendliest in the world, but the long relationship between the two nations is not without conflict. Today, a history of US-Canadian skirmishes and why a war between neighbors isn’t out of the question. Plus, researchers in Virginia may be turning a long held belief about early America on its head. 

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As the obesity epidemic grows, so does the business of weight-loss - a nearly 60 billion dollar industry devoted to the promise that losing weight improves quality of life, health and self-esteem. But does shedding pounds make you happier? On today’s show, we’ll explore the tenuous relationship between losing weight and improving your mood. Plus, a scholar investigates the history of religious satire from Martin Luther to Monty Python, and explains why comedy, rather than rage, is more likely to affect change.  

The (New) Luddite Show

Dec 3, 2015
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The Luddites led a violent labor movement against 19th century technologies that threatened their jobs - today we use the label to describe people who still write letters with paper and pen or aren't on Facebook.  On today’s show we’ll look into what we’re referring to as “The New Luddites”; swathes of folks, from digital natives to millennials to boomers, who feel nostalgic for the simple way life used to be -- whether real or imagined.

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Local, fish to fork and farm-to-table eating is a robust trend among celebrity chefs and in urban centers. For others, it's a way of life. On today’s Word of Mouth, best-selling memoirist and passionate eater Kate Christensen moves from Brooklyn to New England and discovers how to cook a moose and other lessons of eating close to home. Also today, does a crunchier-sounding potato chip taste better? Scientists are exploring how the senses are heightened by working together. 

Department of Defense Photo by Marvin Lynchard / flic.kr/p/A2mXcC

Since the attacks in Paris, the question of how to engage ISIS and Syria has been front and center. Underlying that debate is the changing nature of America’s armed forces and how technology is shaping the future of soldiers. On today’s show a look at how America’s colleges and universities are reflecting the new military. Then, America’s bright young minds are being lured to jobs offering perks from gourmet food to telecommuting, that's stiff competition for the ordered and inflexible military. We’ll hear about the Pentagon's plan to fight "brain drain".

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Cryptography is a complex field of mathematics that gets more complicated every day, and yet movies that feature ciphers, code breaking and puzzles that would break the minds of most math students make cryptography seem quick and easy. 

Here are five movies that feature code breaking and manage to make math seem more magical than logical.

The Imitation Game

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We all use encryption technology to keep our data and credit cards safe. ISIS does too - for communication and recruiting. The Obama Administration and some lawmakers want tech companies to provide access to encryption codes, but would making data more vulnerable make us safer? We’ll take a look into the complicated issue of encryption. Then, a tech researcher conducted a two-year study on how families maneuver the digital world and found that restricting screen time is unrealistic and counterproductive. An argument for why parents shouldn’t be ashamed of technology. 

Sara Plourde / NHPR

Recently, the author of The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series Alexander McCall Smith sat down with us in the Portsmouth Music Hall green room to talk about his writing process. The conversation is part of a series we call the 10-Minute Writer's Workshop.

What's harder to write -- the first sentence or the last?

I think the first sentence is harder and is immensely important, because in a lot of cases that’s the only sentence someone is going to read. And so you have to be very powerful in your first sentence.

Writers On A New England Stage: Alexander McCall Smith

Nov 23, 2015
Sara Plourde

  Today on Word of Mouth it's Writers on a New England Stage with Alexander McCall Smith, recorded live at The Music Hall in Portsmouth.  Best known as the author of The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, McCall Smith made his living for many years as an esteemed lawyer, medical law professor, and international authority on medical ethics and bioethics. He was born in what is now Zimbabwe, and helped found a law school in neighboring Botswana. It is there that he set his first novel about  Precious Ramotswe, who brought the innate curiosity and traditional wisdom honed as a child in the Kalahari desert to bear as Botswana's first ever lady detective.

Alexander McCall smith joined us shortly after publication of The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, the 16th novel in a series that's sold more than 20 million books worldwide and been translated into 40 languages. 

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A new study has confirmed a sad truth about our listening habits - people stop discovering new music around age 33.  Today on Word of Mouth, a seasoned music editor offers tips on how not to get stuck listening to the songs you loved in high school for the rest of your life. Plus, Song Exploder takes apart a track by Chet Faker, and a comedian wrestles with how the world should think of Bill Cosby's decades of standup material. 

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Once a staple of medicine, the case study is in decline - replaced in recent years by a treasure trove of patient data.  But what happens when doctors and doctors-in-training rely on statistics over story?  Today on Word of Mouth, a defense of the medical case study.  Plus, a Candia man chains himself to a waterslide in hopes of saving his business from auction, and a history of the humble mason jar.  

Staff Picks: What We're "Gobbling" Up This November

Nov 18, 2015
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David Bowie Is Waiting: The above David Bowie gif was submitted for Staff Picks without comment by Maureen, our fearless leader, though not before she sent it around to ask about assignment updates. 

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Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In times of mourning, we emphasize the cyclical nature of life and death - and yet, American burial practices are mostly designed to halt the natural process of decomposition. Today on Word of Mouth, a look at the historical forces that pushed America towards embalming and containment, and the growing "green burial" movement. Plus, how American judges are grappling with a difficult to interpret form of evidence that's starting to be introduced in the courtroom - the emoji.

Writers On A New England Stage: Patti Smith

Nov 17, 2015
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On today's show, it's Writers on a New England Stage with Patti Smith, recorded live at the Music Hall in Portsmouth. A poet, musician, and photographer, Smith is often called “the godmother of punk”. She co-wrote the radio hit "Because the Night" with Bruce Springsteen, but soon afterward she stepped off stage to move to Detroit and raise her family. It was with the publication of Just Kids in 2010 that she transformed from downtown cult figure to National Book Award-winning writer. 

Sara Plourde / NHPR

Recently, the multi-talented poet/artist/rock legend Patti Smith joined us to discuss her latest memoir, M Train, for our program Writers on a New England Stage. Before the show, we sat down with Patti in the greenroom of the Music Hall to talk about her writing process. The conversation is part of a series we call the 10-Minute Writer's Workshop.

What's harder to write - the first sentence or the last?

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Four more women just joined the federal defamation suit being brought against Bill Cosby. Even as fans and colleagues and celebrities distance themselves from the once beloved Cosby, there's still the question of how to handle his comedic legacy. Today, can you separate an artist's work from their deeds? Plus, when was the last time you really got into a new album or musician? If you're an adult, it's probably been a while. We're speaking with a life-long music lover about how to keep growing your musical tastes. 

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Snitches, rats, finks, and narcs – criminal informants may not be popular among their peers, but are crucial to the work of law enforcement. Today, the risks investigators face when it uses criminals to catch other criminals. Then, we use fonts so often, it’s easy to forget that typefaces are licensed products – and just like other forms of media, they can be pirated and plagiarized - we're confronting the rampant problem of typeface piracy. Plus, the founder of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, urges our inner-writer out of its shell. 

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Last month China ended its controversial one-child policy – but is the change as radical as it’s been made out to be by officials and news outlets? Today, a reporter on China's new "two-child policy"... and why the country really needs to focus on sex-ed. Plus, Millennials are sometimes derided as a generation slacktivists, and don't have the spending power of their elders – but non-profits are betting on them for the future. From socially conscious spending, to gimmicky donation challenges, we explore how Millennials are changing the face of charitable giving.

11.11.15: Veterans Day

Nov 11, 2015
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Since World War II, as many as 100,000 service members have been “less than honorably discharged” for being gay. Now, four years after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” gay vets look to change the record. Today, what goes into rewriting history. And prior to the Civil War, images of battle were the stuff of legends and mystery – then came the photographs of Alexander Gardner. Plus, other stories about our nation’s veterans. 

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Garamond, Times New Roman, Helvetica. We use them so often, it’s easy to forget that typefaces are licensed products – and just like other forms of media, they can be pirated and plagiarized. Today, we confront the rampant problem of typeface piracy. Then, the founder of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, urges our inner-writer out of its shell. 

Writers On A New England Stage: Stacy Schiff

Nov 9, 2015
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On today's show it's Writers on a New England Stage with Stacy Schiff, recorded live at the Music Hall in Portsmouth. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of biographies of Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov, Benjamin Franklin, and Cleopatra, is known for discovering the real overlaid by popular mythologies. Her most recent book takes on the enduring fictions of one of the most confounding and hysterical events in American history: the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

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Although New Hampshire’s First in the Nation Primary is still months away, the invisible primary is in full swing, and many votes have already been cast – by endorsements. Just how important are these political endorsements? And who is leading the invisible primary? 

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When it comes to stump speeches, presidential contenders want their words to resonate with as many voters as possible – which may explain why Donald Trump speaks to the public at a 4th grade reading level. Today, the strategy of simplicity. Then, they say charity begins at home - but can altruism go too far? We take a look at the complicated motivations behind the actions of extreme "do-gooders", and the strangely hostile reactions they sometimes face from the world around them.

Sara Plourde / NHPR

As David McCullough says, "history in the hands of Stacy Schiff is invariably full of life, light, shadow, surprise, clarity of insight... Few writers combine as she does superb scholarship and an exceptional gift for language with amazing reach and agility of mind. "

Schiff, a Pulitizer Prize-winning author and historian, joined us at The Music Hall in Portsmouth for our program Writers on a New England Stage, to talk about her newest book, The Witches: Salem, 1692.

Sean Hurley

In 1967, at the height of his success, one of the world's great singer songwriters, Jacques Brel, stopped singing.  “I left the day I realized I had an ounce of talent," he said later. "I stopped singing for honest reasons; not for reasons of exhaustion.” 

But the following year, two New Yorkers put together a musical revue of Brel's work to remind the world that even though the great "chanteur" had retired - he was not dead. 

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Yesterday, the filing period for the New Hampshire primary began, which means candidates can now secure a place on the February ballot.  But one important prediction of electoral success happens long before voters get to the polls. Today, the invisible endorsement primary. Then, climbing conditions can get rough at twenty three thousand feet, but as one climber tells us, human waste is the real problem when scaling Everest. 

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When it comes to stump speeches, presidential contenders want their words to resonate with as many voters as possible – which may explain why Donald Trump speaks to the public at a 4th grade reading level. Today, the strategy of simplicity. Then, from speech to song…later in the show we go behind the glimmering façades and dance numbers to examine how movie musicals reflect American culture.

11.03.15: Snitching, Tig Notaro, and Cancer

Nov 3, 2015
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Snitches, rats, finks, and narcs – criminal informants may not be popular among their peers, but are crucial to the work of law enforcement. Today, the risks investigators face when it uses criminals to catch other criminals. Then, 2012 was a rough year for comedian Tig Notaro. She suffered a serious intestinal infection, the death of her mother, a major break-up, and the kicker, she was diagnosed with cancer. She explains why she chose to announce her cancer diagnosis to a roomful of strangers during a stand-up set.

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They say charity begins at home - but can altruism go too far? Today on Word of Mouth, a look at the complicated motivations behind the actions of extreme "do-gooders", and the strangely hostile reactions they sometimes face from the world around them. Plus, a historical look at presidential debates: Brady Carlson talks about how and when they became influential parts of the process, and remembers some noteworthy zingers and gaffes from decades past. 

Listen to the full show


11.01.15: Incognito, Jedis, & Daylight Savings

Oct 30, 2015
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Michael Fosberg grew up in a middle-class white family – and didn’t discover until his early 30s that his biological father was black. Today, a conversation about race, identity and personal discovery with actor Michael Fosberg. Plus, whether you’re looking forward to brighter mornings or dreading the dark afternoons, daylight saving time is happening on Sunday. We’ll debunk the myths of daylight saving time., starting with its origins.

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