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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207 Pieces

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Sometimes it's a challenge to give a book a chance: How many pages should you read before deciding it's not worth your time? There's a new formula ...

Bought by Spokane Public Radio and WCMU


  • Added: Sep 24, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 2
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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...

Bought by WYAP, WEZU, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WCMU, and Spokane Public Radio


  • Added: Sep 17, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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...

Bought by WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WEZU, and WCMU


  • Added: Sep 10, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 4
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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 ...

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


  • Added: Sep 04, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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...

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


  • Added: Aug 27, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WYAP, WEZU, WCMU, and KMXT


  • Added: Aug 20, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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...

Bought by KTSW 89.9, WEZU, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WCMU, and Indie3 Radio


  • Added: Aug 13, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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How do languages change and grow? Does every language acquire new words in the same way? Martha and Grant focus on how that process happens in Engl...

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


  • Added: Aug 06, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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...

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


  • Added: Jul 30, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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Martha and Grant have book recommendations, including a collection of short stories inspired by dictionaries, and a techno-thriller for teens. Or, ...

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


  • Added: Jul 23, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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The game of baseball has always inspired colorful commentary. Sometimes that means using familiar words in unfamiliar ways. The word "stuff," for e...

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


  • Added: Jul 16, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 4
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Brand names, children's games, and the etiquette of phone conversations. Those clever plastic PEZ dispensers come in all shapes and sizes -- but wh...

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


  • Added: Jul 10, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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When does a word's past make it too sensitive to use in the present? In contra dancing, there's a particular move that dancers traditionally call a...

Bought by WSLR, WCMU, KTSW 89.9, WYAP, WEZU and more


  • Added: Jul 03, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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Have you ever offered to foster a dog or cat, but wound up adopting instead? There's an alliterative term for that. And when you're on the job, do ...

Bought by KAWC, WSLR, WYAP, WEZU, WCMU and more


  • Added: Jun 25, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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How colors got their names, and a strange way to write. The terms "blue" and "orange" arrived in English via French, so why didn't we also adapt th...

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


  • Added: Jun 18, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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Teen slang from the South, and food words that are tricky to pronounce. High schoolers in Huntsville, Alabama, give Martha and Grant an earful abou...

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


  • Added: Jun 11, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 4
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There's a proverb that goes "Beloved children have many names." That's at least as true when it comes to the names we give our pets. "Fluffy" becom...

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


  • Added: Jun 04, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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When writing textbooks about slavery, which words best reflect its cold, hard reality? Some historians are dropping the word "slave" in favor of te...

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


  • Added: May 28, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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 KTSW 89.9, WSLR, WYAP, WEZU, KRPS and more


  • Added: May 21, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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 KTSW 89.9, WSLR, KRPS, WYAP, WEZU and more


  • Added: May 14, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6