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 - Roy Blount Jr. For anyone who seriously enjoys using words, this is a marvelous book. A collection of mini-essays about words and phrases that have struck Blount's fancy. If there's a serious point to the book, it's one that I'm whole-heartedly in favor of: A language loses "something" when its speakers cease to care about what they write and say. We should encourage and celebrate sprachgefuhl (imagine an umlaut above the "u"), a feeling for language, the mot juste, an ear for idiom.

Some representative examples pulled, mostly at random, from the text:

In the entry for "giblet": "The main thing I want to contribute with regard to giblets is a personal example of what is known as 'back-formation.' My mother, who fried chicken giblets whole but cut turkey giblets up to make giblet gravy, used the verb 'to gibble,' always with 'up,' as in 'Our best snack when I was a girl was to gibble up some cornbread in a glass of cold buttermilk,' or 'Now just look: you've gibbled up that Styrofoam all over the floor.'" (p. 113)

Or the entry for "portmanteau" (again harking back to his mother): "My mother used a vivid one: squirmle, combination of squirm and wiggle, I assume. She would say to a small child she was trying to wash the ears of, 'Don't squirmle so much.'" (p. 235)

"Surrealism" is easy, comedy's Herb. (p. 285)

"Piss": "...And then it occurs to me that a bladder being voided doesn't make a sound like piss, unless it's onto a hot rock.... Still, Hendrickson is right: piss, unlike the abstract urinate, does somehow evoke pissing." (p. 231)

"Seethe": "From the Old English seothan.... The seething point of the boiling of just before the bubbles start to form. Listen: note quite audible, maybe, but if you could combine into one sound the sounds s, ee, and the, isn't that what just-about-to-boil water would at least subliminally sound like?" (p. 264)

On occasion Blount can be a curmudgeon: He doesn't like the use of "reference" as a verb, though verbalizing nouns enjoys a long history in English and I think this one "works." I'll admit his counter-examples are appropriately hideous: "I beg to difference you," among others. I also couldn't agree that using the third-person, plural pronoun when referring to mixed-gender or singular subjects is wrong.

Aside from that, lovers of language (linguiphiles? linquivores? - I like the latter: "devourers of language") should enjoy the book.