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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212 Pieces

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If you think they refer to umbrellas as bumbershoots in the UK, think again. The word bumbershoot actually originated in the United States! In Brit...

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  • Added: Feb 24, 2020
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 10
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She sells seashells by the seashore. Who is the she in this tongue twister? Some claim it's the young Mary Aning, who went on to become a famous 19...

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  • Added: Feb 17, 2020
  • Length: 54:00
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According to Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, it's important to master the basics of writing, but there comes a time when you have to strike out on y...

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  • Added: Feb 10, 2020
  • Length: 54:00
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A hundred years ago, suffragists lobbied to win women the right to vote. Linguistically speaking, though, suffrage isn't about "suffering." It's fr...

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  • Added: Feb 03, 2020
  • Length: 54:00
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Ever wonder whatever happened to responding to "Thank you" with the words "You're welcome"? A listener asks why so many radio interviews end with t...

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  • Added: Jan 27, 2020
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 11
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One of the most powerful words you'll ever hear -- and one of the most poignant -- isn't in dictionaries yet. But it probably will be one day. The ...

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  • Added: Jan 20, 2020
  • Length: 54:00
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You may have a favorite word in English, but what about your favorite in another language? The Spanish term ojala is especially handy for expressin...

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  • Added: Jan 13, 2020
  • Length: 54:00
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The highly specialized vocabulary of people who work outdoors, like farmers and fishermen, can bring us closer to the natural world. Also, a woman ...

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  • Added: Jan 06, 2020
  • Length: 54:00
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The stories behind symbols and expressions around the world. The peace symbol popular during 1960's antiwar demonstrations had been around for deca...

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  • Added: Dec 31, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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Ribbon fall. Gallery forest. You won't find terms like these in most dictionaries, but they and hundreds like them are discussed by famous writers ...

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  • Added: Dec 16, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 11
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This week on A Way with Words: Insider knowledge and expert advice. The word "hipster" might seem recent, but it actually originated in the 1930s, ...

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  • Added: Dec 09, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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Is there something inherent in English that makes it the linguistic equivalent of the Borg, dominating and consuming other languages in its path? N...

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  • Added: Dec 02, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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Books were rare treasures in the Middle Ages, painstakingly copied out by hand. So how to protect them from theft? Scribes sometimes added a curse ...

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  • Added: Nov 18, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8
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The new Downton Abbey movie is a luscious treat for fans of the public-television period piece, but how accurate is the script when it comes to the...

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  • Added: Oct 28, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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A second-generation Filipino-American finds that when he speaks English, his personality is firm, direct, and matter-of-fact. But when he speaks wi...

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  • Added: Dec 23, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 4
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Family words, and words about being in a family way. How many different ways ARE there to say you have a baby on the way? Sure, you can say you're ...

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  • Added: Nov 24, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 6
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How would you like to be welcomed to married life by friends and neighbors descending on your home for a noisy celebration, tearing off the labels ...

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  • Added: Nov 11, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
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So you've long dreamed of writing fiction, but don't know where to begin? There are lots of ways to get started -- creative writing classes, local ...

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  • Added: Oct 14, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 9
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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...

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  • Added: Nov 04, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 5
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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...

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  • Added: Oct 21, 2019
  • Length: 54:00
  • Purchases: 8