A Way with Words is an upbeat and lively hour-long public radio show and podcast about language examined through history, culture, and family. Each week, author/journalist Martha Barnette and lexicographer/linguist Grant Barrett talk with callers about slang, old sayings, new words, grammar, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. They settle disputes, play word quizzes, and discuss language news and controversies. The show, on the air since 1998, is heard weekly by more than a half-million listeners over the air across the United States and around the world by podcast. The show is produced by Wayword, Inc., a small independent nonprofit unaffiliated with any station or network.
Read about the team that makes the program.
What You’ll Hear
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. It’s of high value to native and non-native speakers alike, including ESL and ELT teachers and students.
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.
You’ll hear conversation about:
- new words from pop culture, sports, science, music, and art
- the language of current events
- political jargon and other words in the headlines
- the latest language breakthroughs
- family expressions and linguistic heirlooms — old-fashioned things your grandparents and parents said
- books, literature, reading, and writing
- word games, puzzles, and quizzes
- proverbs, idioms, folklore and catchphrases
- word histories, slang, and new words
- language in the classroom, including English as a second language
- dialects, accents, and vocabulary of regional and ethnic groups
- speaking, speech, and pronunciation
- grammar, syntax, and semantics
The Nonprofit and its Mission
The radio program is produced and distributed by Wayword, Inc., a California-incorporated 501(c)(3). Its mission is to promote lifelong learning and better human understanding, and to change the way people think about language. The nonprofit partners with individuals and organizations which share its mission.
Wayword, Inc., is not owned or operated by any other company. It receives no funding or support from NPR or any other radio network, nor from any radio station.
The nonprofit is primarily funded through listener, foundation, and corporate donations, and through corporate sponsorships. Additional secondary income is earned from public events, website advertising, affiliate sales of merchandise through Amazon and Zazzle, and from sales of A Way with Words smartphone apps.
The nonprofit’s board is:
- Allie Akmal
- Martha Barnette, president
- Michael Breslauer, vice president
- Bruce Rogow
- Rick Seidenwurm
- Betty Willis
A Way with Words was first aired in 1998 at KPBS-FM in San Diego, California.
The first version of the show was created and developed by then-KPBS Associate General Manager Michael Flaster and Senior Producer Mary Garbesi. It featured co-hosts Richard Lederer and Charles Harrington Elster. Charlie left the show in 2004 and was succeeded by Martha Barnette. Richard left the show in 2006 and was succeeded by Grant Barrett, who had previously filled in for him.
Senior Producer Stefanie Levine created and developed the current version of A Way with Words, and has been producing the show since 2002. Senior KPBS management, including Doug Myrland, Tom Karlo, and John Decker, helped to expand the show’s reach, and by 2006, A Way with Words was airing on Wisconsin Public Radio and WFYI in Indianapolis, in addition to KPBS-FM.
In August 2007, at the time of a large budget cut, KPBS announced it would stop producing the show, so Martha, Grant, and Stefanie took on all production responsibilities, first through a limited liability company, and then in its current form as an IRS approved section 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.
Since 2007, the show has more than quintupled its audience and is heard around the world each week.
The domain name — waywordradio.org — makes a pun on “wayward” and there’s no doubt that we often wander far afield of our subject matter! It is indeed “wayward radio,” but doing “away with words” (a pun on the name of the show that has not gone unnoticed) is not something we endorse, naturally. We’ve also taken “Wayword, Inc.” as the name of the nonprofit which produces the show. Our 24/7 toll-free number, (877) 929-9673 spells 877 WAY WORD on an alphanumeric phone keypad, and is, in turn, a shortened form of our show’s name. You may have come here from one of the many other domain names that point this way: waywardradio.org, waywardradio.com, waywordradio.com, wayword.org, wayword.com, wayward.com, and so forth.