Ali G: How many words does you know?

Noam Chomsky: Normally, humans, by maturity, have tens of thousands of them.

Ali G: What is some of 'em?
—Da Ali G Show


Did you know that both mammal and matter derive from baby talk? Have you noticed how wince makes you wince? Ever wonder why so many h-words have to do with breath?

Roy Blount Jr. certainly has, and after forty years of making a living using words in every medium, print or electronic, except greeting cards, he still can't get over his ABCs. In Alphabet Juice, he celebrates the electricity, the juju, the sonic and kinetic energies, of letters and their combinations. Blount does not prescribe proper English. The franchise he claims is "over the counter."

Three and a half centuries ago, Thomas Blount produced Blount's Glossographia, the first dictionary to explore derivations of English words. This Blount's Glossographia takes that pursuit to other levels, from Proto-Indo-European roots to your epiglottis. It rejects the standard linguistic notion that the connection between words and their meanings is "arbitrary." Even the word arbitrary is shown to be no more arbitrary, at its root, than go-to guy or crackerjack. From sources as venerable as the OED (in which Blount finds an inconsistency, at whisk) and as fresh as Urbandictionary.com (to which Blount has contributed the number-one definition of "alligator arm"), and especially from the author's own wide-ranging experience, Alphabet Juice derives an organic take on language that is unlike, and more fun than, any other.

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.

“I left the South in search of the Enlightenment. I’m pro-choice, in favor of gay marriage, and against creationism and the war in Iraq. But both my parents’ people are deep Southern from many generations, and I spent a little over a third of my life, including the presumably most formative years (toilet training through college), living in the South. Mathematically, that makes me just about exactly as Southern as the American people, 34 percent of whom are Southern residents. But it goes deeper than math—my roots are Southern, I sound Southern, I love a lot of Southern stuff, and when my [Northern] local paper announces a festival to ‘celebrate the spirit of differently abled dogs,’ I react as a Southerner. I believe I care as much about dogs’ feelings as anybody. It is hard for me to imagine that a dog with three legs minds being called a three-legged dog.”

A sly, dry, hilarious collection of essays—his first in more than ten years—from the writer who, according to The New York Times Book Review, is “in serious contention for the title of America’s most cherished humorist.”

This time Blount focuses on his own dueling loyalties across the great American divide, North vs. South. Scholarly, raunchy, biting and affable, ol’ Roy takes on topics ranging from chicken fingers to yellow-dog Democrats to Elvis’s toes. And he shares experiences: chatting with Ray Charles, rounding up rattlesnakes, watching George and Tammy record, meeting an Okefenokee alligator (also named George, or Georgette), imagining Faulkner’s tennis game, and being swept up, sort of, in the filming of Nashville. His yarns, analyses, and flights of fancy transcend all standard shades of Red, Blue, and in between.

Roy on language: “Remember when there was lots of agitated discussion of Ebonics, pro and con? I kept waiting for someone to say that if you acquire white English, you can become Clarence Thomas, whereas if you acquire black English, you can become Quentin Tarantino.”

Roy on eating: “The way folks were meant to eat is the way my family ate when I was growing up in Georgia. We ate till we got tired. Then we went “Whoo!” and leaned back and wholeheartedly expressed how much we regretted that we couldn’t summon up the strength, right then, to eat some more.”

Roy on racism: “Anybody who claims . . . not to have ‘a racist bone’ in his or her body is, at best, preracist and has a longer way to go than the rest of us.”

Blount’s previous books have included reflections on a Southern president (Jimmy Carter), a novel about a Southern president (Clementine Fox), a biography of Robert E. Lee, a celebration of New Orleans, a memoir of growing up in Georgia, and the definitive anthology of Southern humor. Long Time Leaving is the capper. Maybe it won’t end the Civil War at last, but it does clarify, or aptly complicate, divisive delusions on both sides of the longstanding national rift. It’s a comic ode to American variety and also a droll assault on complacency North and South—a glorious union of diverse pieces reshaped and expanded into an American classic, from one of the most definitive and esteemed humorists of our time.
Our best-laid plans will yield to fate.
And we will say, “We lived. We ate.”

Roy Blount Jr. is one of America’s most cherished comic writers. He’s been compared to Mark Twain and James Thurber, and his books have been called everything from “a work of art” (Robert W. Creamer, The New York Times Book Review) to “a book to read till it falls apart” (Newsweek). Now, in Save Room for Pie, he applies his much-praised wit and charm to a rich and fundamental topic: food.

As a lifelong eater, Blount always got along easy with food—he didn’t have to think, he just ate. But food doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there’s the global climate and the global economy to consider, not to mention Blount’s chronic sinusitis, which constricts his sense of smell, and consequently his taste buds. So while he’s always frowned on eating with an ulterior motive, times have changed. Save Room for Pie grapples with these and other food-related questions in Blount’s signature style. Here you’ll find lively meditations on everything from bacon froth to grapefruit, Kobe beef to biscuits. You’ll also find defenses of gizzards, mullet, okra, cane syrup, watermelon, and boiled peanuts; an imagined dialogue between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; input from Louis Armstrong, Frederick Douglass, and Blaze Starr; and of course some shampooed possums and carjacking turkeys.

In poems and songs, limericks and fake (or sometimes true) news stories, Blount talks about food in surprising and innovative ways, with all the wit and verve that prompted Garrison Keillor, in The Paris Review, to say: “Blount is the best. He can be literate, uncouth, and soulful all in one sentence.”

Laugh-out-loud observations from “America’s foremost humorist” (Chicago Tribune).
 
What Men Don’t Tell Women: Well, that’s just for starters. Roy Blount Jr. realized that nearly all of his writing involved things people don’t tell people: what Southerners don’t tell Northerners, what the sick don’t want to hear from the well, what no one would ever tell their mother, and what authors rarely admit to their readers. That all changes in this “honest . . . funny” collection of confessional essays about sex, friendship, marriage, male bonding, female patience, and Elvis (The Boston Globe).
 
One Fell Soup: A deliciously funny stew of reviews, diatribes, investigations, meditations, assorted grumblings, and verse about the absurdities of American life, death, fears, and ambition. Included in these fifty-nine easy pieces: the truth (as Blount sees it) about nudism, cricket-fighting, bowling, macaroni and cheese, black holes and black socks, nuclear holocausts, the CIA, domesticated fowl, pork bellies, God, and more. The whole shebang from “one of the most clever (see sly, witty, cunning, nimble) wordsmiths cavorting in the English language” (Carl Hiaasen).
 
Camels Are Easy, Comedy’s Hard: Flesh-eating piranha! Synchronized swimming! Rubber chickens! Edith Wharton! Crossword puzzles! All and then some in this giddy compendium of essays, celebrity profiles, silly games, and side trips. Parts sports journalism, literary criticism, travel writing, and aborted novel, tossed with a few poems and a neo-Biblical one-act play, this is an uproarious—and sometimes heartening—anthology of adventures from “one writer who never fails to please” (The Village Voice).
“Betcha I can tell ya / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Betchadollar, / Betchadollar, / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Got your shoes on your feet, / Got your feet on the street, / And the street’s in Noo / Awlins, Loo- / Eez-ee-anna. Where I, for my part, first ate a live oyster and first saw a naked woman with the lights on. . . . Every time I go to New Orleans I am startled by something.”

So writes Roy Blount Jr. in this exuberant, character-filled saunter through a place he has loved almost his entire life—a city “like no other place in America, and yet (or therefore) the cradle of American culture.” Here we experience it all through his eyes, ears, and taste buds: the architecture, music, romance (yes, sex too), historical characters, and all that glorious food.

The book is divided into eight Rambles through different parts of the city. Each closes with lagniappe—a little bit extra, a special treat for the reader: here a brief riff on Gennifer Flowers, there a meditation on naked dancing. Roy Blount knows New Orleans like the inside of an oyster shell and is only too glad to take us to both the famous and the infamous sights. He captures all the wonderful and rich history—culinary, literary, and political—of a city that figured prominently in the lives of Jefferson Davis (who died there), Truman Capote (who was conceived there), Zora Neale Hurston (who studied voodoo there), and countless others, including Andrew Jackson, Lee Harvey Oswald, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Jelly Roll Morton, Napoléon, Walt Whitman, O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe, Earl Long, Randy Newman, Edgar Degas, Lillian Hellman, the Boswell Sisters, and the Dixie Cups.

Above all, though, Feet on the Street is a celebration of friendship and joie de vivre in one of America’s greatest and most colorful cities, written by one of America’s most beloved humorists.

Also available as a Random House AudioBook
“Betcha I can tell ya / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Betchadollar, / Betchadollar, / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Got your shoes on your feet, / Got your feet on the street, / And the street’s in Noo / Awlins, Loo- / Eez-ee-anna. Where I, for my part, first ate a live oyster and first saw a naked woman with the lights on. . . . Every time I go to New Orleans I am startled by something.”

So writes Roy Blount Jr. in this exuberant, character-filled saunter through a place he has loved almost his entire life—a city “like no other place in America, and yet (or therefore) the cradle of American culture.” Here we experience it all through his eyes, ears, and taste buds: the architecture, music, romance (yes, sex too), historical characters, and all that glorious food.

The book is divided into eight Rambles through different parts of the city. Each closes with lagniappe—a little bit extra, a special treat for the reader: here a brief riff on Gennifer Flowers, there a meditation on naked dancing. Roy Blount knows New Orleans like the inside of an oyster shell and is only too glad to take us to both the famous and the infamous sights. He captures all the wonderful and rich history—culinary, literary, and political—of a city that figured prominently in the lives of Jefferson Davis (who died there), Truman Capote (who was conceived there), Zora Neale Hurston (who studied voodoo there), and countless others, including Andrew Jackson, Lee Harvey Oswald, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Jelly Roll Morton, Napoléon, Walt Whitman, O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe, Earl Long, Randy Newman, Edgar Degas, Lillian Hellman, the Boswell Sisters, and the Dixie Cups.

Above all, though, Feet on the Street is a celebration of friendship and joie de vivre in one of America’s greatest and most colorful cities, written by one of America’s most beloved humorists.

Also available as a Random House AudioBook
“Betcha I can tell ya / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Betchadollar, / Betchadollar, / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Got your shoes on your feet, / Got your feet on the street, / And the street’s in Noo / Awlins, Loo- / Eez-ee-anna. Where I, for my part, first ate a live oyster and first saw a naked woman with the lights on. . . . Every time I go to New Orleans I am startled by something.”

So writes Roy Blount Jr. in this exuberant, character-filled saunter through a place he has loved almost his entire life—a city “like no other place in America, and yet (or therefore) the cradle of American culture.” Here we experience it all through his eyes, ears, and taste buds: the architecture, music, romance (yes, sex too), historical characters, and all that glorious food.

The book is divided into eight Rambles through different parts of the city. Each closes with lagniappe—a little bit extra, a special treat for the reader: here a brief riff on Gennifer Flowers, there a meditation on naked dancing. Roy Blount knows New Orleans like the inside of an oyster shell and is only too glad to take us to both the famous and the infamous sights. He captures all the wonderful and rich history—culinary, literary, and political—of a city that figured prominently in the lives of Jefferson Davis (who died there), Truman Capote (who was conceived there), Zora Neale Hurston (who studied voodoo there), and countless others, including Andrew Jackson, Lee Harvey Oswald, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Jelly Roll Morton, Napoléon, Walt Whitman, O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe, Earl Long, Randy Newman, Edgar Degas, Lillian Hellman, the Boswell Sisters, and the Dixie Cups.

Above all, though, Feet on the Street is a celebration of friendship and joie de vivre in one of America’s greatest and most colorful cities, written by one of America’s most beloved humorists.
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