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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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171 Pieces

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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 KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WYAP, and WEZU


  • Added: Jan 18, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 3
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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 WSLR, WYAP, and WEZU


  • Added: Jan 10, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 3
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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...

Bought by WEZU, WRIR, WSLR, WEJP-LP 107.1, Indie3 Radio and more


  • Added: Jan 05, 2018
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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...

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


  • Added: Dec 27, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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 ...

Bought by WEZU, WSLR, WYAP, and WRIR


  • Added: Dec 21, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 4
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Taking a look back at some notable words and phrases from 2017: Remember path of totality? How about "milkshake duck"? Also, a committee has to cho...

Bought by WSLR and WEJP-LP 107.1


  • Added: Dec 14, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 2
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Books for word lovers, plus the stories behind some familiar terms. Want a gift for your favorite bibliophile? Martha and Grant have recommendation...

Bought by WEJP-LP 107.1, WSLR, KTSW 89.9, WYAP, WEZU and more


  • Added: Dec 07, 2017
  • 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'...

Bought by RadioFreePalmer, KREV-LP, WSLR, WNJR, KTSW 89.9 and more


  • Added: Nov 30, 2017
  • 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...

Bought by KREV-LP, WSLR, WNJR, KTSW 89.9, WYAP and more


  • Added: Nov 23, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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Civil War letters and the opposite of prejudice. A new online archive of Civil War letters offers a vivid portrait of the everyday lives of enliste...

Bought by WSLR, KREV-LP, WYAP, WEZU, and WNJR


  • Added: Nov 16, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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If you're not using a dictionary to look up puzzling words as you read them, you're missing out on a whole other level of enjoyment. Also, when you...

Bought by KREV-LP, WSLR, and KTSW 89.9


  • Added: Nov 11, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 3
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Some countries have strict laws about naming babies. New Zealand authorities, for example, denied a request to name some twins Fish and Chips.  Plu...

Bought by WSLR, WNIN, KTSW 89.9, WEZU, and KREV-LP


  • Added: Nov 03, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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...

Bought by WNJR, WSLR, KTSW 89.9, WEZU, KREV-LP and more


  • Added: Oct 26, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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...

Bought by KREV-LP, WNJR, WSLR, KTSW 89.9, WYAP and more


  • Added: Oct 19, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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 ...

Bought by KREV-LP, WSLR, KTSW 89.9, WYAP, WEZU and more


  • Added: Oct 13, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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...

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


  • Added: Oct 05, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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Restaurant jargon, military slang, and modern Greek turns of phrase. Some restaurants now advertise that they sell "clean" sandwiches. But that doe...

Bought by KREV-LP, WSLR, KTAL-LP [Las Cruces Community Radio], KTSW 89.9, WYAP and more


  • Added: Sep 28, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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 KREV-LP, WSLR, KTSW 89.9, WYAP, and WEZU


  • Added: Sep 21, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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 KTAL-LP [Las Cruces Community Radio], KTSW 89.9, KREV-LP, WYAP, and WEZU


  • Added: Sep 14, 2017
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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, WYAP, and WEZU


  • Added: Sep 07, 2017
  • Length: 01:47:30
  • Purchases: 4