Roy Blount Jr. •
Alphabet Juice •
Alphabet Juice needs a review category all its own to do justice to it. Hysterically Funny Books on Language? Mesmerizing Glimpses into Roy Blount Jr.’s Encyclopedic Memory for Incident? Rambles Through the Overgrown Back Lanes of English?
Whatever you call it, you’ll want to read it. In fact, if you’re a word nerd, you won’t be able to stop reading it.
The book is a catchall—or perhaps an excuse—for anecdotes about word origins, sounds, popular music, ancient history, and pretty much anything else you can think of. “Hmmmm” gets its own entry, as does “names, some good ones I’ve picked up here and there.” Every page is punctuated with irreverent jingles, laugh-out-loud puns, oxymora, and poorly thought out headlines (culled from other sources, I hasten to add; Blount’s own are marvels of concision and multiple meanings).
See “Wilt: A Tall Tale” to read about basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain and his run-in with a switchboard operator named Muriel. Turn to “words, naughty” for a choice tidbit on Dr. Johnson, his dictionary, and his detractors. Look under C to read the one about the wolf who wanted to join a monastery. (No one ever laughs when I tell this, but that’s my fault, not Blount’s. Coming from him, it’s the funniest wolf joke ever.)
Clearly, Alphabet Juice is not just about the alphabet, except insofar as those 26 humble letters function as the springboard for all our verbal and written communications. That takes in a lot of territory, and no one covers it better than Blount—a self-described “shade-tree etymologist.” If you love language you’ll be happy to join him under that tree.