A Way with Words

Series produced by 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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210 Pieces

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It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when people disagreed over the best word to use when answering the phone. Alexander Graham Bell sugg...

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  • Added: Sep 16, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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One way to make your new business look trendy is to use two nouns separated by an ampersand, like Peach & Creature . . . or Rainstorm & Egg. A tong...

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  • Added: Sep 09, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
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Of all the letters in the alphabet, which two or three are your favorites? If your short list includes one or more of your initials, that's no acci...

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  • Added: Sep 02, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
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Decisions by dictionary editors, wacky wordplay, and Walt Whitman's soaring verse.  How do lexicographers decide which historical figures deserve a...

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  • Added: Aug 29, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
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A highly anticipated children's book and the epic history behind a familiar vegetable. Fans of illustrator Maurice Sendak are eagerly awaiting the ...

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  • Added: Aug 19, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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Where would you find a sports commentator talking about high cheese and ducks on a pond? Here's a hint: both terms are part of what make the langua...

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  • Added: Aug 13, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
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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...

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  • Added: Aug 05, 2019
  • 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...

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  • Added: Jul 29, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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The Internet Archive offers a wealth of free books and other publications online, including the 1948 collection of jokes, riddles, and playground s...

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  • Added: Jul 23, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
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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...

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  • Added: Jul 15, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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Book recommendations and the art of apology. Martha and Grant share some good reads, including an opinionated romp through English grammar, a Spani...

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  • Added: Jul 08, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
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Pranks, cranks, and chips. As a kid, you may have played that game where you phone someone to say, "Is your refrigerator running? Then you better g...

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  • Added: Jul 01, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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The edge of the Grand Canyon. A remote mountaintop, or a medieval cathedral. Some places are so mystical you feel like you're close to another dime...

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  • Added: Jun 25, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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What's the best way for someone busy to learn lots of new words quickly for a test like the GRE? Looking up their origins can help. Or record yours...

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  • Added: Jun 17, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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This week on A Way with Words: Your first name is very personal, but what if you don't like it? For some people, changing their name works out grea...

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  • Added: Jun 11, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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Why do we call a frankfurter a "hot dog"? It seems an unsettling 19th-century rumor is to blame. Also, if someone quits something abruptly, why do ...

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  • Added: Jun 03, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
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The autocomplete function on your phone comes in handy, of course. But is it changing the way we write and how linguists study language? Also, supp...

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  • Added: May 27, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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The months of September, October, November, and December take their names from Latin words meaning "seven," "eight," "nine," and "ten." So why don'...

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  • Added: May 20, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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In the military, if you've "lost the bubble," then you can't find your bearings. The term first referred to calibrating the position of aircraft an...

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  • Added: May 13, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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How do actors bring Shakespeare's lines to life so that modern audiences immediately understand the text? One way is to emphasize the names of peop...

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  • Added: May 06, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6