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A Way with Words

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A Way with Words is an upbeat and lively hour-long public radio show about language examined through history, culture, and family. Co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett talk with callers from around the world about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. They settle disputes, play word quizzes, and discuss language news and controversies.

What it is: Martha and Grant are the teachers you wish you’d had. The show is upbeat, lively, conversational, fresh, contemporary. It’s a positive, information-based look at what is really happening with all aspects of modern language and communication, using anecdotes, culture, relationships, and families as starting points. There’s a lot of first-hand, primary research and professional language experience that informs the dialogue.

What it’s not: The show is not a couple of cobwebbed school-marms giving lectures. There’s almost no chiding, tsk-tsking, or finger-wagging. Nor is it simply a recitation of what one could easily find in a Google search. There’s also no ranting about language going to hell in a handbasket or the slang of kids today. In fact, what Martha and Grant have to say about the state of the English language may surprise you.

See what program directors are saying about the show.

Find out more about the program.

Get the show on PRSS/Content Depot.

Email Grant Barrett with questions.

Pieces

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Hundreds of years ago, the word girl didn't necessarily mean a female child. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the term "girl" could refer to a child...

Bought by WYAP, WEZU, KTSW 89.9, and WMUU-LP


  • Added: Mar 23, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 4
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This week on "A Way with Words”: The language we use to cover up our age, and covering up a secret message. Do you ever find yourself less-than-spe...

Bought by WSLR, WETD, and WEZU


  • Added: Mar 16, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 3
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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 WSLR, WNJR, WRNC-LP, KTSW 89.9, WEZU and more


  • Added: Mar 09, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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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 WNJR, WSLR, KREV-LP, WEZU, WYAP and more


  • Added: Mar 02, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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 WNJR, KREV-LP, WSLR, WETD, WEZU and more


  • Added: Feb 23, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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Choosing language that helps resolve interpersonal conflict. Sometimes a question is really just a veiled form of criticism. Understanding the diff...

Bought by KREV-LP, WSLR, WNJR, WETD, WRNC-LP and more


  • Added: Feb 16, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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A wingnut is a handy, stabilizing piece of hardware. So why is it a pejorative term for those of a certain political persuasion? Also, is there som...

Bought by WSLR, WNJR, WETD, WEZU, KTSW 89.9 and more


  • Added: Feb 08, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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The words we choose can change attitudes--and change lives. A swing-dance instructor has switched to gender-neutral language when teaching couples....

Bought by WSLR, WNJR, KREV-LP, WETD, WEZU and more


  • Added: Feb 02, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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 KREV-LP, WNJR, WSLR, WETD, WEZU and more


  • Added: Jan 26, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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 KREV-LP, WNJR, WSLR, WETD, WYAP and more


  • Added: Jan 19, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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 WSLR, WNJR, WETD, WYAP, KTSW 89.9 and more


  • Added: Jan 12, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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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 WNJR, WSLR, WETD, KREV-LP, WRNC-LP and more


  • Added: Jan 05, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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Wrapping up 2016 with words from the past year and some newsy limericks. Bigly and Brexit were on lots of lips this year, as well as an increasingl...

Bought by WMUU-LP, WSLR, WNJR, WETD, KTSW 89.9 and more


  • Added: Dec 30, 2016
  • Length: 01:47:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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 WSLR, WNJR, KREV-LP, and WMUU-LP


  • Added: Dec 22, 2016
  • 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 WNJR, KREV-LP, WSLR, WYAP, and WMUU-LP


  • Added: Dec 15, 2016
  • 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 KREV-LP, WSLR, WNJR, WRNC-LP, KTSW 89.9 and more


  • Added: Dec 08, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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Say you have an acquaintance you always see at the dog park or the playground. But one night, you run into them at the movies, and for a moment, it...

Bought by WEZU, KREV-LP, WMUU-LP, WNJR, WSLR and more


  • Added: Dec 02, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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 WNJR, WRNC-LP, WSLR, WEZU, KTSW 89.9 and more


  • Added: Nov 23, 2016
  • Length: 41:00
  • Purchases: 8
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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 WNJR, WRNC-LP, WSLR, KREV-LP, KTSW 89.9 and more


  • Added: Nov 17, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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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 KREV-LP, WSLR, WNJR, WETD, KTSW 89.9 and more


  • Added: Nov 10, 2016
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9