Alphabetter Juice: or, The Joy of Text

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9780374103705: Alphabetter Juice: or, The Joy of Text

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.

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About the Author:

Roy Blount Jr. is the author of twenty-one previous books, covering subjects from the Pittsburgh Steelers to Robert E. Lee to what dogs are thinking. He is a regular panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! and is a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel. Born in Indianapolis and raised in Decatur, Georgia, Blount now lives in western Massachusetts with his wife, the painter Joan Griswold.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Alphabetter Juice

2JGw/OX
ELSIE: What’s that, Daddy?
FATHER: A cow.
ELSIE: Why?
 —from a 1906 issue of Punch, quoted by Ernest Weekley as an epigraph to his book An Etymology of Modern English
 
 When we reflect that “sentence” means, literally, “a way of thinking” (Latin: sententia) and that it comes from the Latin sentire, to feel, we realize that the concepts of sentence and sentence structure are not merely grammatical or merely academic—not negligible in any sense. A sentence is both the opportunity and the limit of thought—what we have to think with, and what we have to think in. It is, moreover, a feelable thought, a thought that impresses its sense not just on our understanding, but on our hearing, our sense of rhythm and proportion. It is a pattern of felt sense.
 —Wendell Berry, “Standing by Words”
 
 Captain Smith ... , happening to be taken Prisoner among the Indians, had leave granted him to send a Message to the Governor of the English Fort in James Town, about his Ransome; the Messenger being an Indian, was surpriz’d, when he came to the Governor, ... for that the Governor could tell him all his Errand before he spoke one Word of it to him, and that he only had given him a piece of Paper: After which, when they let him know that the Paper which he had given the Governor had told him all the Business, then ... Capt. Smith was a Deity and to be Worshipp’d, for that he had Power to make the Paper Speak.
 —Daniel Defoe, An Essay on the Original of Literature, 1726Copyright © 2011 by Roy Blount Jr.

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