A Way with Words

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A Way with Words is a national, lively, hour-long public radio show about language, on the air since 1998. Author/journalist Martha Barnette and linguist/lexicographer Grant Barrett take listener calls about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well.

Co-host/producer Martha Barnette has a background in Latin and ancient Greek. She’s a stickler for grammatical rules, and makes a point of explaining them with little anecdotes and tricks that make those rules clear and easy to remember. Raised in the South, she has a warm and accessible on-air presence. Despite that down-home charm, when she and her co-host get into a grammatical tussle, those white gloves come off.

She is the author of three books on word origins, including Ladyfingers & Nun’s Tummies: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names (1997), which was chosen by the Los Angeles Times for its “100 Best Books of the Year” list. Her other etymological books are A Garden of Words (1992) and Dog Days and Dandelions (2003).

Martha holds a degree in English from Vassar College, did graduate work in classical languages at the University of Kentucky, and studied Spanish in Costa Rica at the ILISA School. She’s worked as a reporter for the Washington Post, an editorial writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal, and as a medical reporter for the Louisville Times. Her first book, The Bill Schroeder Story (1987), chronicled the ordeal of the world’s longest-living artificial heart patient. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications, from the New York Times to Bark.

Martha has co-hosted A Way with Words since 2004.

A Kentucky native, she now lives in San Diego, where she is a sought-after public speaker. Her web site is MarthaBarnette.com.

Co-host/producer Grant Barrett is an American lexicographer and dictionary editor specializing in slang and new words. Whether he’s scouring obscure corners of the Internet, mining electronic databases, or digging through the library stacks, Grant ferrets out new and surprising terms that make our language colorful. He’s editorial director of the online dictionary Wordnik, compiler and editor of the Official Dictionary of Unofficial English (2006, McGraw-Hill) and of the Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang (2004, Oxford University Press), and is well-known for his award-winning online Double-Tongued Dictionary, which tracks slang, jargon, and neologisms from the fringes of English.

Besides being a widely quoted language authority, Grant has written on language for such newspapers as the Washington Post and the New York Times, has contributed to the British book series The Language Report, and is a public speaker about dictionaries and slang. He also writes a fortnightly column about English-language slang for the 1.2-million-circulation Malaysia Star and has worked as a business and music journalist.

He serves as vice president of the American Dialect Society, an academic organization devoted since 1889 to the study of English in North America. He is also editor of “Among the New Words” column of the society’s journal American Speech, head of its new words committee and a member of the journal’s editorial board, and helps organize the society’s annual “word of the year” vote. He is a member of the Dictionary Society of North America and the Linguistic Society of America. Grant holds a degree in French from Columbia University and has studied at the Université Paris Diderot.

Grant was an editor of the four-volume Historical Dictionary of American Slang (2003-2006, Oxford University Press) and has contributed as a lexicographer to the Cambridge Dictionary of American English (second edition, 2008), the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary (2008), the Collins British English Advanced Dictionary (2008), Collins Cobuild English/Japanese Dictionary of Advanced English (2008), the Collins Spanish Intermediate Dictionary (2008), the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (first edition, 2004), the New Oxford American Dictionary (2001, first edition, and 2005, second edition), the Concise Oxford American Thesaurus (2006), and the Concise Oxford American Dictionary (2006).

Grant first worked in radio in 1988 and has co-hosted A Way with Words since January 2007.

Though born and raised in Missouri, and having been a long-time resident of New York City, Grant now lives in California, with his wife, a linguist, and their son. Visit Grant’s blog.

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Co-host/producer Martha Barnette has a background in Latin and ancient Greek. She’s a stickler for grammatical rules, and makes a point of explaining them with little anecdotes and tricks that make those rules clear and easy to remember. Raised in the South, she has a warm and accessible on-air presence. Despite that down-home charm, when she and her co-host get into a grammatical tussle, those white gloves come off.

She is the author of three books on word origins, including Ladyfingers & Nun’s Tummies: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names (1997), which was chosen by the Los Angeles Times for its “100 Best Books of the Year” list. Her other etymological books are A Garden of Words (1992) and Dog Days and Dandelions (2003).

Martha holds a degree in English from Vassar College,...

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207 Pieces

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This week on "A Way with Words": Modern language with very old origins. If you're on tenterhooks, it means you're in a state of anxious anticipatio...

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  • Added: Oct 30, 2015
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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This week on "A Way with Words: Writers and where they do their best creative work. A new book on Geoffrey Chaucer describes the dark, noisy, smel...

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  • Added: Mar 03, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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This week on "A Way with Words": The best way to read poetry. When you pick up a book of poems, how many do you read in one sitting? Some people de...

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  • Added: Mar 10, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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This week on "A Way with Words": What's in a name? A recent study found that some names crop up more frequently than others in certain professions....

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  • Added: Mar 18, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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The stories behind slang, political and otherwise. The dated term "jingoism" denotes a kind of belligerent nationalism. But the word's roots lie in...

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  • Added: Mar 25, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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This week on "A Way with Words": How do languages change and grow? Does every language acquire new words in the same way? Martha and Grant focus on...

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  • Added: Apr 01, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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This week on "A Way with Words": The language of political speech. Politicians have to repeat themselves so often that they naturally develop a rep...

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  • Added: Apr 07, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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This week on "A Way with Words": We often hear that English is going to hell in a handbasket. Actually, though, linguistic handwringing about sinki...

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  • Added: Apr 15, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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This week on "A Way with Words": Constructing imaginary languages and deconstructing the lingo of Hollywood. For example, would you rather live in ...

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  • Added: Apr 22, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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The books we love as children may influence our careers more than we realize. As a child, Martha was fascinated with stories of cracking codes, and...

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  • Added: Apr 28, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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You may have heard the advice that to build your vocabulary you should read, read, and then read some more--and make sure to include a wide variety...

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  • Added: May 06, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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The names of professional sports teams often have surprising histories -- like the baseball team name inspired by, of all things, trolley-car accid...

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  • Added: May 12, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 10
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How often do you hear the words campaign and political in the same breath? Oddly enough, 19th-century grammarians railed against using campaign to ...

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  • Added: May 19, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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Sensuous words and terms of endearment. Think of a beautiful word. Now, is it simply the word's sound that makes it beautiful? Or does its appeal a...

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  • Added: May 27, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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This week on "A Way with Words": Sharing a secret language. Did you ever speak in gibberish with a childhood pal, adding extra syllables to words s...

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  • Added: Jun 02, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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If you're serious about writing a memoir, what topics should you include, and what can you leave out? And how honest can you really be about the ot...

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  • Added: Jun 10, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 10
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In deafening workplaces, like sawmills and factories, workers develop their own elaborate sign language to discuss everything from how their weeken...

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  • Added: Jun 15, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 10
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This week on "A Way with Words": Careful what you criticize! Not long ago, some words that sound perfectly normal today were considered gauche and ...

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  • Added: Jun 23, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 10
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Right off the bat, it's easy to think of several everyday expressions that derive from America's pastime. Including right off the bat. The Dickson ...

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  • Added: Jul 08, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 10
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If you don't have anything nice to say, say it like Shakespeare: Thou unhandsome smush-mouthed mush-rump! Thou obscene rug-headed hornbeast! The Sh...

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  • Added: Jul 15, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8