There is a little grammar geek in all of us. Some of you exhibit it on a very limited basis. You correct a
mispelled misspeled misspelled word. You occasionally notice that their not correct or its important to get it right. You cringe, just a little bit, when someone uses the wrong tense of the verb (even if you don’t know that what you are cringing at is an incorrect verb tense.)
And, over on the other extreme, there are those of us who others consider…extreme.
We are not extreme! We believe in the power of the English language! And we believe it should be given the respect it so righteously deserves, used not misused, showered with correct application in all instances, pampered like the lover we … (Okay, that even got a little too weird for me.)
But I hold before me – for the enjoyment of all, whether we are on the extremes or somewhere in the middle – a fun, funny, informative, entertaining, eye-opening, lark of a book by Roy Blount Jr. (No comma before “Jr.” He explains why in the section covering the letter “J”.)
The book is titled Alphabet Juice and it is an excursion through words that not only entertains, but also enlightens.
How can you not like a book that starts with a discussion of what noise a pig makes (“oink” in English, “neff” in Norwegian, “chrjo” [no, that’s not a typo] in Russian) and what the committee must have sounded like as the decision was made regarding how that sound should be spelled. Or how can you not like a book which includes in the introduction this sentence:
“I do hope you realize that every time you use disinterested to mean uninterested, an angel dies, and every time you write very unique, or “We will hire whomever is more qualified,” thousands of literate people lose yet another little smidgen of hope.”
How can you not want to instantly anoint Mr. Blount for sainthood? (I know – a grammar geek thing.)
That is the joy of reading this book. First, the humor that is Mr. Blount’s trademark. (You want some examples? Go out to npr.org, find the link to the show “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me”,
and listen to the episodes on which Mr. Blount has appeared. In fact, for some generally great humor, you should just go ahead and listen to all episodes of the show.)
Second, is the obvious reverence Roy Blount has for language. Within these pages you can learn how “hopefully” is supposed to be used, you can see why nothing ever “begs the question”, you can understand when to use “if” and when to use “whether”, you can discover why “k”s and “g”s are so often silent, you can read a discussion on whether “equally as” can ever be used. In short, you can find explanations on all kinds of language faux pas to which we all seem to succumb.
Each chapter is a list of words for each letter of the alphabet. And the vagaries of the book are made most evident by sharing with you a list of the words that start the section on the letter “M”: Malapropism, man (three lines), mange, mansuetude (two pages), marriage – impact of word choice upon, marriage – to a writer, marvelous, me, meadow muffin, meatspace, media, meme, memorabilia, menu-ese, merely (including a discussion of split infinitives), meta, metaphor, metaphor – mixed, meter, mignon, mingling, minimalism (“A little of it goes a long way), mishit (“should be hyphenated, for decency’s sake”), misnomers, mistletoe, mnemonic…
That’s enough to give you a taste.
Look, others often pick on me for being a grammar geek. (An aside - as an example of why grammar geekitude is important, I can tell you that every auditor that has worked for me for any length of time knows what parallel construction means and how it applies to sentences as well as lists – and they know why it is important to understand the ramifcations of parallel constuction.) But, as auditors, we live and die by words. We have to pick just the right words and phrases to elicit the responses we need. We have to listen closely to the words people use and the way they use them to understand the full message they are delivering. And our only real product is our reports – a collection of words upon which we are often judged.
So, with that in mind, I submit that this is a book that will appeal to that little bit of grammar geek that exists in each of us. You will have a good time reading this book and you will probably (and accidently) learn something in the process. And, in case it isn’t already evident, it is a book grammar geeks will definitely geek out over.