Fresh-squeezed Lexicology, with Twists
No man of letters savors the ABC's, or serves them up, like language-loving humorist Roy Blount Jr. His glossary, from ad hominy to zizz, is hearty, full bodied, and out to please discriminating palates coarse and fine. In 2008, he celebrated the gists, tangs, and energies of letters and their combinations in Alphabet Juice, to wide acclaim. Now, Alphabetter Juice. Which is better.
This book is for anyone—novice wordsmith, sensuous reader, or career grammarian—who loves to get physical with words. What is the universal sign of disgust, ew, doing in beautiful and cutie? Why is toadless, but not frogless, in the Oxford English Dictionary? How can the U. S. Supreme Court find relevance in gollywoddles? Might there be scientific evidence for the sonicky value of hunch? And why would someone not bother to spell correctly the very word he is trying to define on Urbandictionary.com?
Digging into how locutions evolve, and work, or fail, Blount draws upon everything from The Tempest to The Wire. He takes us to Iceland, for salmon-watching with a "girl gillie," and to Georgian England, where a distinguished etymologist bites off more of a "giantess" than he can chew. Jimmy Stewart appears, in connection with kludge and the bombing of Switzerland. Litigation over supercalifragilisticexpialidocious leads to a vintage werewolf movie; news of possum-tossing, to metanarrative.
As Michael Dirda wrote in The Washington Post Book World, "The immensely likeable Blount clearly possesses what was called in the Italian Renaissance ‘sprezzatura,' that rare and enviable ability to do even the most difficult things without breaking a sweat." Alphabetter Juice is brimming with sprezzatura. Have a taste.
The humorist and panelist on public radio's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me pours a tall glass of wordplay, witticism, curmudgeonry, and anecdote in this beguiling follow-up to Alphabet Juice. Leafing through the Oxford English Dictionary and other respectable sources, Blount compiles his own facetious lexicon of terms that pique his interest and prod him into a ramble. "Sonicky" words always get high marks for sheer auto-evocativeness " splotch' explodes from the mouth and makes an unmissable mess of itself" but any dubious etymology, quaint and off-color usage, or over-reaching lexicographer's dictat is liable to get him going. Then he's off into historical digressions ("not until 1598 did prick appear as an insult"), grammatical rants (you-all is not singular, Yank), miscellaneous peeves (Karl Rove's prose, people who think somebody else wrote Shakespeare's plays), and, always, a shaggy-dog story he wants to tell. Such is the force of the author's free-associational logic that the entry on meta-narrative carries us straight through Jean-Fran ois Lyotard's theory of the postmodern to international news reports of a rash of hog- and possum-hurling misdemeanors in Mississippi. Blount's hilarious collection of riffs and raves adds up to a cantankerous ode to the English language in all its shambling grace.