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.
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 the 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, Grant lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, a linguist, and their infant son. Visit Grant’s blog, The Lexicographer’s Rules.
Mar. 8, 2009: William Safire asks Grant to help uncover some of the history behind pay to play for the New York Times. On Language: Pay-to-Play.
Mar. 4, 2009: The world-wide free newspaper Metro asks Grant about slang. Watch your slanguage.
Feb. 27, 2009: Grant gives his take on the new word “porkulus” to Good magazine. In Political Slang, “Pork” Is a Staple.
Feb. 26, 2009: The show is now carried in Gallup, New Mexico, on KGLP 88.9 FM, Mondays at 8 p.m.
Feb. 23, 2009: Martha talks with the Orange County Register about “linguistic inflation.” Our time: Beware of those robust, Styrofoam words.
Feb. 22, 2009: Two statewide radio networks now carry the program: North Country Public Radio broadcasts the show throughout northern New York State and western Vermont, with signal reaching into Canada, and Connecticut Public Radio, covers Hartford, New Haven, Norwich, New London, Stamford, Greenwich, Storrs, all in Connecticut, and as well as Southampton, New York, on Long Island.
Feb. 16, 2009: Travel magazine World Hum asks Martha and Grant about regional American expressions. Regional American Words: Is That a Pork Steak in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?.
Feb. 15, 2009: Quiz guy John Chaneski is quoted in the Boston Globe about the kinds of words and language used in crossword puzzles. Farewell, etui: The changing language of crosswords.
Feb. 4, 2009: The Los Angeles Times looks for Grant’s input about the slang phrase, “He’s just not that into you!” Sorry, girlfriend, he’s just not that into you.
January 28, 2009: A Way with Words is now heard on WVTF Radio IQ, in Roanoke City, Roanoke, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Ferrum, Rocky Mount, Smith Mountain Lake, and New River Valley, Virginia; on WEZU 95.9 FM in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina; on WHRV’s SpeakEasy 89.5 HD2 in Norfolk, Virginia; on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankaee, Illinois, and on WRVO HD2 in Oswego, New York.
January 12, 2009: National Public Radio’s Morning Edition asked Grant to comment on the new words coined based on the name “Barack Obama.” Obamifications Denied Word Of The Year.
January 12, 2009: WJON AM 1240 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, talks with Grant about the words of the year.
January 11, 2009: Grant is quoted on the subject of slang in the Johannesburg Times. Excuse me, do you speak Bloglish?.
January 8, 2009: Martha discusses the annual “Banished Words List” in a television interview on San Diego’s Channel 6.
January 2, 2009: State of Affairs on WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky, hosts Grant to talk about the language of 2008. 2008 Words of the Year. Listen to the MP3 of the interview. Hear listener contributions.
January 1, 2009: KOCV 91.3 FM in at Odessa College in Odessa Texas will begin airing A Way with Words starting Wednesday, January 7, at 3 p.m, which will be the show’s regular weekly time slot. Welcome, West Texas!
Dec. 31, 2008: Grant’s regular column about language, this time about—what else?—words of the year, appears in the Malaysia Star. New words odd to political.
Dec. 30, 2008: KERA 90.1 FM in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, announces changes to its lineup, including adding A Way with Words to its schedule. KERA Gets a Jump on the New Year with New Programs Replacing Axed Ones.
Dec. 30, 2008: Pam Platt of the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal interviews Grant. Q&A with Grant Barrett and Words of the Year, and words that should have been.
Dec. 28, 2008: Grant is interviewed about American language of 2008 by Albertus Van Dijk on The Alternative View on CapeTalk 567 AM in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Dec. 27, 2008: Amy Rosenberg of the Philadelphia Inquirer talks about words of the year with Grant and other members of the American Dialect Society. Obama, Palin made history — and words. The story was also published in the the Kansas City Star, the Charlotte Observer, the Rutland (Vermont) Herald, Barre-Montpelier, Vermont, Times-Argus, and in other newspapers and web sites that use the McClatchy-Tribune News service.
October 24, 2008: The New York Times asks Grant his opinion of the term “recessionista.” A Label for a Pleather Economy.
October 24, 2008: Grant contributes to Slate’s explanation of what it means to be “in the tank” for someone. Explainer Goes in the Tank.
October 7, 2008: Is Sarah Palin a MILF? Grant is quoted talking about the term in the online magazine The Root: The MILFy Way.
September 18, 2008: The Sydney Morning Herald features a look at the false doom-saying perspectives on what technology is doing to our language and quotes Grant. Broken English: Katie Cincotta looks at how texting is changing our language.
September 13, 2008: Grant talks to the Guardian about “lipstick on a pig.” Questions, questions: Who coined the phrase ‘lipstick on a pig’?.
September 10, 2008: Fox TV News asks Grant about the history of “lipstick on a pig” on Live Desk (video not yet available). He also spoke about it to Monica Guzman of “The Big Blog” of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Lipstick on a pig and why we play politics with words. Grant also spoke about it on the air with KOMO-AM in Seattle.
September 9, 2008: In an article about the self-appointed grammar police, Grant offers general guidelines for playing it cool but safe. Drag ’net: Self-appointed grammar police are catching and citing online abusers of the English language, Baltimore Sun.
July 23, 2008: Martha and Grant are featured on PRX Conversations ‘08 talking about political slang. It can also be found on the Campaign Audio from PRX blog.
July 2, 2008: More about the catchphrase “throw someone under the bus” from Grant. Is it time to throw ‘under the bus’ under the bus?, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
June 22, 2008: What do you call your romantic partner if you’re an older person? Boyfriend or girlfriend? Lover or paramour? S.O.? Grant gives his opinion in USA Today. Adults stumble over what to call their romantic partners.
June 19, 2008: Grant was a quest on These Days, a morning news and call-in show hosted by Tom Fudge on KPBS-FM in San Dego. Listen to them talk about political slang and language (31MB MP3, 37 min.).
June 17, 2008: Bobbie Johnson of the Guardian’s technology blog, points to Grant’s article about purposely mispronouncing words.
June 10, 2008: Roby Kyff cites Grant as a source about the political terms “red state” and “blue state.” How Political Stripes Got Added To Map, Hartford Courant.
April 22, 2008: In his language commentary on NPR’s Fresh Air, linguist Geoff Nunberg talks about the phrase “under the bus” and cites Grant and his research. Text: Under the Bus; audio: Primaries Toss Some “Under the Bus”.
April 17, 2008: Grant comments on the likelyhood that the word “scuppie” will survive. The new ’scuppies’ wear a mantle of green, USA Today.
April 9, 2008: The excuse “we didn’t anticipate” draws a comment from Grant. Un-an-tici-pat-ed: adj. Lacking Foresight in Hindsight, Washington Post.
April 8, 2008: Grant is quoted about the phrase “it is what it is.” The cliché is what it is, Chicago Tribune.
April 6, 2008: Grant’s dictionary site is mentioned by Jan Freeman in connection with the term “mullet strategy.” The mullet strategy, Boston Globe.
April 5, 2008: Martha’s book A Garden of Words is considered by a garden writer. Speaker has bumper crop of words, Indianapolis Star.
April 4, 2008: Nicki Arnold says of the show: “I usually listen to my podcasts on my bike, so when you see me laughing like a goon, you’ll know why.” Nicki’s Nifty News: Queen of the Grammar Rodeo, Daily Nexus, University of California, Santa Barbara.
April 1, 2008: Martha will be the special guest at the Indy Reads annual Alphabet Affair in Indianapolis on April 12th. Buzzin’ around town… Indianapolis Star.
March 23, 2008: Grant helps William Safire get to the bottom of the term “firehouse primary.” Mulligan Primary, New York Times Magazine.
March 17, 2008: Grant is quoted in reference to “maternal profiling.” Mom fights for law against ‘maternal profiling,’ Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call.
March 5, 2008: Grant is quoted in an article about online dictionaries. Whatchu talkin’ bout: Poly grad’s online urban dictionary still going strong, Columbia News Service, SanLuisObispo.com.
March 2, 2008: Grant co-emcees the finals at the 31st Annual American Crossword Tournament and he and Martha hand out awards. Crossword Tournament: The Final Countdown, New York Press. Photos with Will Shortz and Merle Reagle.
February 12, 2008: Martha is quoted by language columnist Nathan Bierma about the bloody origin of the word “shambles.” Word’s history now lies in shambles, Chicago Tribune.
February 2, 2008: Grant is quoted extensively in an article about online dictionaries. Word nerds capture fleeting online English, New Scientist.
January 28, 2008: Grant is quoted about the Oxford comma. Michael Hogan: Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma,” Explained, VF Daily, a Vanity Fair blog.
December 21, 2007: Grant talks on another radio show about words of the year. Words of 2007, From ‘Surge’ to ‘Left of Boom’ to ‘E-Mail Bankruptcy,’ Wordmaster, Voice of America. Includes audio.
December 4, 2007: Martha talks about grammatical questions of particular interest to physicians in the American Academy of Neurology’s podcast version of its journal, Neurology.
November 15, 2007: Grant appears in online video to talk about texting. Roundtable discussion on texting slang, AT&T Tech Channel.