The title alone is remarkable: Alphabet Juice – 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.
It’s by Roy Blount Jr., who will be familiar to anyone who listens to National Public Radio’s Wait Wait. . .Don’t Tell Me! In his bio for that program, he is listed as a “humorist-novelist-journalist-dramatist-lyriscist-lecturer-reviewer-screenwriter-anthologist-columnist-philologist.”
In Alphabet Juice, he puts all of his various backgrounds to good use, as he reflects on and writes about the letters and words that make up our English language.
Want to know where “dactyl” comes from and what it means? Read page 72. Curious about how “heebie-jeebies” and “hotsy-totsy” are related? See page 132. Wondering how to use a semicolon “duly and well”? You’ll find it on 265.
If you love words and are curious about their meanings and histories, this is perhaps one of the most entertaining volumes you’ll find to learn more about where they come from, and what they mean.
There’s nothing comprehensive about the book – it doesn’t attempt to give the history and background of every word in the Oxford English Dictionary, nor could it. The somewhat arbitrary selections Blount does chose, though, are always enlightening – did you know that “orange” comes from the Arabic naranj? – and frequently humorous. The entry for minimalism, for example: “A little of it goes a long way.”
And so it does.
To learn more, pick up Blount’s book.