A Way with Words

Series produced by A Way with Words

Caption: Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette
Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette 

A Way with Words is a lively hour-long public radio show about language, on the air since 1998. Author Martha Barnette and dictionary editor Grant Barrett take 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 San Mateo, California, with his wife, a linguist, and their infant son. Visit Grant’s blog, The Lexicographer’s Rules.

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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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189 Pieces

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Vocabulary that trickles down from the top of the world. Malamute, kayak, and parka are just some of the words that have found their way into Engli...

Bought by KRPS and KNVC Carson City Community Radio


  • Added: May 21, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 2
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Secret codes, ciphers, and telegrams. It used to be that in order to transmit information during wartime, various industries encoded their messages...

Bought by WSLR, KRPS, WYAP, WEZU, and KNVC Carson City Community Radio


  • Added: May 14, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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Funny cat videos and cute online photos inspire equally adorable slang terms we use to talk about them. When a cat leaves its tongue out, that's a ...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, and WEZU


  • Added: May 07, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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The dilemma continues over how to spell dilemma! Grant and Martha try to suss out the backstory of why some people spell that word with an "n." At ...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, and WEZU


  • Added: Apr 30, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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An Ohio community is divided over the name of the local high school's mascot. For years, their teams have been called the Redskins. Is that name de...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WEZU and more


  • Added: Apr 23, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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This week on "A Way with Words": This week on "A Way with Words": Can language change bad behavior in crowded places? The Irish Railway system has ...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WEZU and more


  • Added: Apr 16, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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If you think they refer to umbrellas as bumbershoots in the UK, think again. The word bumbershoot actually originated in the United States! In Brit...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, and WEZU


  • Added: Apr 09, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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According to Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, it's important to master the basics of writing, but there comes a time when you have to strike out on y...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, WNJR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio and more


  • Added: Apr 02, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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Ever wonder whatever happened to responding to "Thank you" with the words "You're welcome"? A listener asks why so many radio interviews end with t...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, WNJR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio and more


  • Added: Mar 27, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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What's in a mascot name? Maybe you're a fan of the Banana Slugs, or you cheer for the Winged Beavers. Perhaps your loyalty lies with the Fighting A...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WEZU, and WYAP


  • Added: Mar 19, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
Caption: Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette
This week on "A Way with Words": Slang from the 19th century. The slang coming out of Victorian mouths was more colorful than you might think. A 19...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, WYAP, WEZU, and KNVC Carson City Community Radio


  • Added: Mar 12, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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The highly specialized vocabulary of people who work outdoors, like farmers and fishermen, can bring us closer to the natural world. Also, a woman ...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WSLR, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, and WEZU


  • Added: Mar 06, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 4
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The stories behind symbols and expressions around the world. The peace symbol popular during 1960's antiwar demonstrations had been around for deca...

Bought by WSLR, KTSW 89.9, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WEZU, WYAP and more


  • Added: Feb 26, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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Gerrymandering is the practice of redistricting to tip the political scales. Originally, though, this strategy was called "GARY-mandering" with a h...

Bought by WSLR, WYAP, KCMJ Community Radio, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WEZU and more


  • Added: Feb 19, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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The only time you'll ever see the sun's outer atmosphere is during a full solar eclipse, when sun itself is completely covered. That hazy ring is c...

Bought by WSLR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WEZU, and KTSW 89.9


  • Added: Feb 12, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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A second-generation Filipino-American finds that when he speaks English, his personality is firm, direct, and matter-of-fact. But when he speaks wi...

Bought by WSLR, WRIR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WEZU and more


  • Added: Feb 06, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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Family words, and words about being in a family way. How many different ways ARE there to say you're have a baby on the way? Sure, you can say you'...

Bought by WSLR, KTSW 89.9, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WEZU, and KCMJ Community Radio


  • Added: Jan 31, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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How would you like to be welcomed to married life by friends and neighbors descending on your home for a noisy celebration, tearing off the labels ...

Bought by WEJP-LP 107.1, WSLR, KTSW 89.9, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, KXCR and more


  • Added: Jan 25, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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New research shows that you may be less influenced by superstitious behavior like walking under ladders or the magic of four-leaf clovers if you're...

Bought by KXCR, WSLR, WEJP-LP 107.1, KTSW 89.9, KNVC Carson City Community Radio and more


  • Added: Jan 18, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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This week it’s butterflies, belly flowers, plot bunnies, foxes, and cuckoos. Also, writing advice from Mark Twain and a wonderful bit of prose from...

Bought by KXCR, WEJP-LP 107.1, WSLR, WYAP, and WEZU


  • Added: Jan 10, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5