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, callers join author/journalist Martha Barnette and lexicographer/linguist Grant Barrett in light-hearted conversation about language change, debates, and differences, as well as new words, old sayings, slang, family expressions, word histories, etymology, linguistics, regional dialects, word games, grammar, books, literature, writing, and more.
The show, on the air since 1998, is heard weekly coast-to-coast by broadcast on many NPR stations across the United States (and into parts of Mexico and Canada) and around the world by podcast.
It is produced by Wayword, Inc., a small independent nonprofit unaffiliated with any station or network.
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 cobwebbed school-marms giving lectures.
There’s no chiding, tsk-tsking, or finger-wagging. Nor is it simply a recitation of what one could easily find in a Google search — Martha and Grant have decades of experience and deep libraries far beyond what the average person might know or find. There’s also no ranting about how English is getting worse (because it isn’t).
In fact, what Martha and Grant have to say about the state of the English language may surprise you.
You’ll hear conversation about:
- Comparison and history of dialects, accents, and vocabulary of regional and ethnic groups
- Funny and inspiring stories about misunderstandings, cross-cultural eureka moments, and “today I learned” encounters.
- How thoughts and criticisms about the way other people speak are sometimes not about language, but instead are about cultural issues like racism, sexism, genderism, classism, elitism, ethnocentrism, parochialism, ageism, and other biases and prejudices
- Family expressions and linguistic heirlooms — old-fashioned things your family has passed down
- Word histories, etymologies, historical lexicography, and historical linguistics
- Teen and college slang, and new words from pop culture, technology, sports, current events, science, the arts, and more
- Forays into names and naming, folklore — especially playground rhymes and songs, and settling language debates between coworkers and loved ones.
- Discussion of similarities and differences between world languages
- Book recommendations, poetry, and examples of inspiring and uplifting writing
- Word games, puzzles, and quizzes
- Proverbs, idioms, sayings, and catchphrases, from the very old to the very modern
- Language in the classroom, including English as a second language
- Speaking and writing well at school and at work
It’s all carefully put together in one convivial, big-hearted package!
The Nonprofit and its Mission
The radio program is produced and distributed by Wayword, Inc., a California-incorporated 501(c)(3). The organization, through the radio show and podcast of A Way with Words, through live events, and through its online presence, promotes better human communication and understanding. It does this by looking at language through the lenses of family, history, and culture, and by revealing human connections across eras, generations, cultures, and languages.
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.
The nonprofit’s board is:
- Michael Breslauer
- Josh Eckels
- Clare Grotting
- 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 co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and senior producer Stefanie Levine 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, Wayword, Inc.
Since then, the radio show has shifted its focus toward language connections found through family, history, and culture, putting it more in line with the field of sociolinguistics. This shift has helped draw a larger, younger audience.
In 2007, the show was heard on 12 stations in four states. Today, it’s broadcast from more than 80 stations on more than 300 signals in more than 40 states. Its podcasts are downloaded millions of times per year.
Since 2007, when the organization became independent, its leadership has been composed of an informal executive triumvirate — Stefanie Levine, Martha Barnette, and Grant Barrett — both for the original LLC and the succeeding 501(c)(3) of Wayword, Inc., a nonprofit.
With the establishment of the nonprofit in 2009, the three executives began reporting to a “kitchen table” type of nonprofit board, which provides guidance for budgeting, legal issues, fundraising, and other matters.
The nonprofit’s primary revenue comes from charitable gifts, events, and radio program underwriting. Wayword, Inc., and A Way with Words receive no funding from National Public Radio, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, KPBS, or any other public radio station.
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, and so forth.