Roy Blount Jr.’s Alphabet Juice is the most fun I’ve had in ages. Subtitle: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory. Gotta love that.
I sat in the orthodontist’s office this morning with people wondering (seriously) what was making me giggle, grimace and guffaw. All words, in fact, that Blount would probably term “sonicky.” (Don’t even get him started about that “k.” He wants it there, dammit, as in mike v. mic, to retain “phonetic fiber” as opposed to “pissing away alphabet juice.”)
A word’s sound, he contends, is often related to its meaning in ways that go beyond simple onomatopoeia. All language, he says, is essentially body language: the shape your mouth makes when you say a word (think sneer), the associations with other sounds (mother words are related to baby talk for mama, deriving from mmmmm, which is not only yummy but mimics a baby’s nursing mouth).
Many of the book’s alphabetized entries (he bounces us from one to the other like a pinball) rant not on individual words but on grammar and usage as they relate to sound. If I were you, I would take great care in your use of the subjunctive around Blount: getting this wrong really riles him, more than misplaced apostrophe’s upset Eats Shoots and Leave’s author. And then there are the random entries: “has-been: a bee that’s over the hill.”
This guy loves words — yea, even letters — as much as I do. Warren enjoyed reading a bit of it, too. (Well, it was the “fart” entry. Bleeping “fart” as “f*rt” has a certain expressiveness, he says. And he wants to write a Western with a character called Silent Bob Dudley.) I imagine Rushdie, who loves to play in his own word sandbox, is digging this book too.