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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202 Pieces

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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...

Bought by WCMU


  • Added: Jul 23, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 1
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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 WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, KTXK, RadioFreePalmer, WCMU and more


  • 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...

Bought by KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WYAP, KTXK, RadioFreePalmer, WCMU and more


  • Added: Jul 08, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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 WYAP, KTXK, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, RadioFreePalmer, WCMU and more


  • Added: Jul 01, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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...

Bought by KTXK, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WCMU, KMXT and more


  • Added: Jun 25, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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 RadioFreePalmer, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, KTXK, WCMU and more


  • Added: Jun 17, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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...

Bought by KTXK, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WCMU, KMXT and more


  • Added: Jun 11, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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 RadioFreePalmer, WYAP, KTXK, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WCMU and more


  • Added: Jun 03, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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...

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


  • Added: May 27, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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 KTXK, WYAP, WCMU, Spokane Public Radio, KNVC Carson City Community Radio and more


  • Added: May 20, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 7
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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 KTSW 89.9, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio, WCMU, KTXK and more


  • Added: May 13, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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...

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


  • Added: May 06, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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 KTSW 89.9, WYAP, KTXK, WCMU, KNVC Carson City Community Radio and more


  • Added: Apr 29, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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Stunt performers in movies have their own jargon for talking about their dangerous work. They refer to a stunt, for example, as a gag. Across the c...

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


  • Added: Apr 22, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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 KTSW 89.9, KTXK, WRIR, WYAP, KNVC Carson City Community Radio and more


  • Added: Apr 15, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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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 KTSW 89.9, KTXK, WRIR, WEZU, WYAP and more


  • Added: Apr 09, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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We asked for your thoughts about whether cursive writing should be taught in schools -- and you replied with a resounding "Yes!" Here's why: Cursiv...

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


  • Added: Apr 02, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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Questions from young listeners and conversations about everything from shifting slang to a bizarre cooking technique. Kids ask about how to talk ab...

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


  • Added: Mar 26, 2019
  • Length: 25:59
  • Purchases: 3
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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 KTSW 89.9, WRIR, WRFA-LP, WEZU, KNVC Carson City Community Radio and more


  • Added: Mar 26, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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If someone urges you to spill the tea, they probably don't want you tipping over a hot beverage. Originally, the tea here was the letter T, as in t...

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


  • Added: Mar 18, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6