Linguist, lexicographer, writer, editor, broadcaster

To book me for a speaking engagement, or to discuss rates and dates, email or call (646) 286-2260.

I love the energy and enthusiasm I get back from audiences all over the country! Whether they’re face-to-face or virtual video events, the give-and-take of meeting the language-loving public is my bread and butter.

Using what I know about new words, language change, the history of English, regional variation, political linguistic debates, and more, I’ve given presentations to lawyers in California, schoolchildren in Alabama, journalists in New York City, literacy supporters in Indianapolis, public media professionals in La Jolla, librarians in Vermont, editors in Chicago, translators in Israel, senior citizens in memory care, and to many other gatherings.

Each time, it’s a chance to meet some of the hundreds of thousands of listeners from across the country who listen to the radio show I co-host, A Way with Words, on their local NPR station: to hear their stories, to learn from them, and then to give them my best ideas in return. And, of course, it’s a chance to have some laughs and make new friends.

As keynote speaker, event host, master of ceremonies, and workshop facilitator, I speak at public and private events to groups of all sizes and professions.

I’m also happy to be an event-planner’s last-minute fill-in speaker when someone else simply cannot go on but the show simply must. That’s me: a one-man speakers’ bureau on short notice. Emergency speeches to the rescue!

My presentations are upbeat and irreverent and interwoven with surprising tidbits and useful takeaways, often on the topics below. They’re often accompanied by sound clips and relevant images (and there’s no “death by Powerpoint”).

If you’ve got something special in mind, we’ll work together to make a presentation just for you: I tailor my comments and stories to suit audiences and situations. There’s nothing canned! You won’t have seen or heard this before. I also enjoy Q&A sessions — even when we don’t plan them, they often spring up, anyway. Curiosity will out!

I sometimes appear alongside my lovely and brainy radio co-host Martha Barnette, so if you’d like to double your fun, just ask us!

You can get photos of me here to use in your publicity materials, programs, schedules, website, etc. My current bio is always this one.

Well-Received Presentations

  • What’s New in Language: Pronouns, Slang, Neologisms, and More. What’s changing, why it’s changing, how we can handle it in our own lives, and where it fits into history. What technology and the internet are doing to language. How adapting to language change sharpens our intellect.
  • Insults, Slurs, and Injurious Language: Why language hurts, even when it’s just words. Handling off-color and inappropriate language at work, home, or school. What we’re really doing when we use such language. Why some language is allowed from some speakers and not from others. A history of hurtful terms.
  • The American Language: A fun, illustrated history about why Americans can sound so different from each other and the rest of the English-speaking world.
  • The Enduring Value of Just Reading: Why we’re reading more, why we’re smarter than ever, and why reading is thriving in the digital era. My personal story about being rescued by books and libraries.


“The Ivy Plus Clubs of San Diego — a group of allied Ivy League university alumni clubs — were honored to spend an evening with Grant Barrett. As the featured speaker at our most recent event, he delivered an engaging presentation about slang that captivated a tightly packed crowd of over 100. His program was at once professional, informative, and entertaining. Throughout the evening, Grant’s genuine passion for language underscored his thoughtful analysis and skillful interweaving of social science research, personal experiences and old-fashioned punditry. The format included an interactive and lively lecture, followed by a Q&A session where he deftly handled spirited inquires from a rapt, thrilled, and highly opinionated audience. After the official presentation, Grant generously stayed on to address a smaller group of folks who delighted in the witty and intelligent discourse. This was one of our most successful programs to date. We will hire him again!”

—Christina Abuelo, Brown University Club of San Diego

“Grant Barrett was a perfect emcee for our recent ‘Blueprint’ event, a collaborative social event with poetry and prose readings related to the Museum’s ‘True Blue’ exhibition presented by San Diego Writers, Ink, and Mingei International Museum. This was a first such evening here uniting the visual and verbal arts. Grant kept his delightfully witty remarks light, brief and to the point. He also demonstrated a sensitive reading of the diverse crowd in attendance and kept everyone engaged. The event was a fine success.”

Rob Sidner, Director of the Mingei International Museum

“We were delighted to have Grant as our emcee for the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s 2011 Orchids & Onions Awards ceremony, and he was an absolute pleasure to work with. He was professional and fun, made us laugh, glided right over the rough spots, and felt like a completely natural fit with the evening and audience. We’d hire him again in a heartbeat!”

Leslee Schaffer, Executive Director, San Diego Architectural Foundation

“In the four years I have been implementing this program, I have not seen any class respond as well to a speaker as the UMOJA students did to you. They were engaged from the very beginning, and I believe that is because you let them know that ‘slang,’ words that many of them incorporate into their speech, is a valid and valuable way to communicate. Coming from an individual with your background, your commitment to these words not only gave you instant credibility but allowed them to be comfortable relating to you. I am so impressed by the fact that you are as comfortable in a suit at a Kiwanis Club meeting as you are in jeans at a Juvenile Court School. You respected these young people, and in turn, you won them over.”

Marilyn Copeland, San Diego-Imperial Council Exploring, a program for career education, writing about my presentations to students at the Juvenile Court and Community Schools, which are for students who have problems at other schools.

“Words Alive could not have chosen a more perfect team in Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett to emcee our 2011 Annual Authors’ Luncheon. Held every year as the centerpiece event of our organization, the luncheon celebrates literacy, Words Alive’s role in the community and its supporters. Few speakers have been able to connect their message to Words Alive’s audience in a more passionate, impactful way as Martha and Grant. We’re truly grateful for their participation – and are convinced that their participation played a significant role in making the event a major success!”

Patrick Stewart, executive director of Words Alive, a literacy organization, San Diego, California.