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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178 Pieces

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The emotional appeal of handwriting and the emotional reveal of animal phrases. Should children be taught cursive writing in school, or is their ti...

Bought by WYAP, WEZU, and WCMU


  • Added: Feb 12, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 3
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If you speak both German and Spanish, you may find yourself reaching for a German word instead of a Spanish one, and vice versa. This puzzling expe...

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


  • Added: Feb 04, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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Chances are you recognize the expressions Judgment Day and the root of all evil as phrases from the Bible. There are many others, though, some of w...

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


  • Added: Jan 29, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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The anatomy of effective prose, and the poetry of anatomy. Ever wonder what it'd be like to audit a class taught by a famous writer? A graduate stu...

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


  • Added: Jan 21, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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This week on "A Way with Words": Grant and Martha discuss the L-word--or two L-words, actually: liberal and libertarian. They reflect different pol...

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


  • Added: Jan 14, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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Echoes of the Greatest Generation, and a tasty bite of history. The language and melodies of military marching songs can connect grown children wit...

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


  • Added: Jan 07, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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Clean cursing for modern times, more about communicating after a brain injury, and 1970's TV lingo with roots in the Second World War. A young woma...

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


  • Added: Jan 01, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 4
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Novelist Charles Dickens created many unforgettable characters, but he's also responsible for coining or popularizing lots of words, like "flummox"...

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


  • Added: Dec 25, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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We have books that should be on every language lover's wish list, plus a couple of recommendations for history buffs. Plus: how did the word boondo...

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


  • Added: Dec 17, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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Are there words and phrases that you misunderstood for an embarrassingly long time? Maybe you thought that money laundering literally meant washing...

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


  • Added: Dec 10, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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Perfect sentences and slang that tickles your mind. A new book of writing advice says that a good sentence "imposes a logic on the world's weirdnes...

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


  • Added: Dec 06, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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If you want to be a better writer, try skipping today's bestsellers, and read one from the 1930's instead. Or read something besides fiction in ord...

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


  • Added: Nov 26, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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A caller with a 25-year-old parrot wonders: How much language do birds really understand? Plus, Knock-knock. Who's there? Boo. Well . . .  you can ...

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


  • Added: Nov 19, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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If you catch your blue jeans on a nail, you may find yourself with a winklehawk. This term was adapted into English from Dutch, and means "an L-sha...

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


  • Added: Nov 12, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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Sending someone a care package shows you care, of course. But the first care packages were boxes of food and personal items for survivors of World ...

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


  • Added: Nov 05, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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Victorian slang and a modern controversy over language and gender. In the early 1900's, a door-knocker wasn't just what visitors used to announce t...

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


  • Added: Oct 29, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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In 1803, a shy British pharmacist wrote a pamphlet that made him a reluctant celebrity. The reason? He proposed a revolutionary new system for clas...

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


  • Added: Oct 22, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
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Silence comes in lots of different forms. In fact, says writer Paul Goodman, there are several kinds: There's the noisy silence of "resentment and ...

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


  • Added: Oct 15, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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A clever pun can make the difference between a so-so phrase and a memorable one. The phrase "the last straw" refers to an old fable about too many ...

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


  • Added: Oct 09, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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A stereotype is a preconceived notion about a person or group. Originally, though, the word stereotype referring to a printing device used to produ...

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


  • Added: Oct 01, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5