From the Publisher
“Blount's selection of words is particularly 'sonicky' and is accompanied by amusing facts and anecdotes and crazy stories that show the peculiarities of etymology and definitions and the deep and abiding beauty of words. Writers and readers will love this book.” Booklist
“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. . . Blount's hilarious collection of riffs and raves adds up to a cantankerous ode to the English language in all its shambling grace.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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-François 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. (May)
In a follow-up toAlphabet Juice(2008), the author expands his personalized dictionary.
Blount (Hail, Hail, Euphoria!: Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the Greatest War Movie Ever Made, 2010, etc.) is a classic American humorist in the company of H.L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Andy Rooney and Garrison Keillor. He is also a regular panelist on NPR's comic quiz show,Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!and consultant to theAmerican Heritage Dictionary. These biographical elements begin to provide a glimpse of the kind of writing readers will encounter inthis text: comic, intelligent, political, insightful and often absurd explorations of words as various as "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "decapitate." As with previous investigations of language, Blount shows he is a master at blending folksy humor with word play and etymological analysis. His reflections and analyses are witty, funny and unaffected, and his political humor can be sharp. Imagine a collaboration between Normal Rockwell, Groucho Marx and Daniel Webster, and you begin to have a picture of Blount here. If this comparison of sensibilities screams old fashioned, it's true, but only partly, as many of Blount's entries deal with current technologies and trends. In one instance, under the entry for "first sentence," he mocks the opening of Karl Rove's memoir with characteristically clever sarcasm. However, "folksy" is definitely apropos in describing Blount's comedy, or maybe even the more recent "old school"—the humor recalls a time when comedy was less crass and offensive, say in Andy Griffith's Mayberry. A word like "fuck," for instance, is sanitized and imbedded in an entry for "gollywaddles."
Read in small doses, a humorous and insightful panoply of word play, political humor and linguistic inquiry.
Read an Excerpt
ELSIE: What’s that, Daddy?
FATHER: A cow.
—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, 1726
Copyright © 2011 by Roy Blount Jr.