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Always Fresh, Never From Concentrate

Flip the Script….will be back soon (I know, everyone’s favorite), but I’ve been doing a lot of reading and have not posted a book review for awhile, so here goes. Forget V8 and wave Ocean Spray goodbye, because today’s blog post is all about Alphabetter Juice by Roy Blount Jr.

Cover photo from Amazon.com

It’s not a cookbook or a guide to cleanses; rather, Alphabetter Juice is the sequel to a book by the same author which I haven’t read yet. I saw it on the shelf at Dollar Tree and it looked interesting, so I got it, read it, and sent it off to someone in California via PaperBackSwap. I can’t say it was the most thrilling read, but if you’re into words, etymology, and tangents, this one is for you.

Blount breaks down the chapters by alphabet letter, selecting five or ten words from each letter and writing a short entry about their etymology and the curiosity of their existences. A lot of it has to deal with the way the words sound when the come out of the human mouth. For example, when we say the letter “o”, our mouths form the same shape, and the unpleasant hardness of the “nk” sound leads to words like yank, spank, wank, and shank, all of which have connotations of something taboo. I’d be interested to hear what a vocalist or a dialect coach had to say about some of these examples.

Probably the weakest part of the book is the author’s tendency towards long, rambling stories that, after a certain point, are utterly uninteresting. The best entries are the ones which are succinct and to the point. At a certain point, I felt like I was glossing over a lot of the stories, looking for some interesting key words and going off of those.

I did learn a few interesting things from Blount’s book. For example:

  • Beans – They are only mentioned twice in all of Shakespeare’s writings, leading the author to believe he wasn’t fond of this vegetable.
  • Elephant – The term “white elephant” may have come from the King of Siam, who reportedly would gift a rare white elephant to someone he didn’t like. Anyone who would turn down a gift like that from such an illustrious person would be looked down upon, but elephants are quite hard for the average person to take care of, especially one of a rare breed.
  • Knee – The English language has no word for the back of the knee. The author suggests “eenk.” I couldn’t care less.
  • Pun – He introduces this entry with a pun about a transit strike in Manhattan. When asked how to get around, one man said “diesel.” The asker looked confused, until the man pointed at his feet and said…wait for it…“Diesel get me anywhere.” So bad, it’s…not too bad.

The best thing about this book was that it actually helped me get a question right in HQ Trivia. I had just read the entry on cleave, which talked about words that have two meanings which contradict each other, and cleave was the exact answer to the question. I still lost at question 6 or so, but thanks, Roy Blount Jr.!

This book review was brought to you by words. You can’t read without them.

 

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Fun New Words to Mumble Under Your Breath

One of the courses I’m taking this semester is a seminar in Irish drama. I don’t know much about Ireland and Irish playwrights as I probably should, hence the reason for taking the class. The reading list is gigantic, and with ten readings to be read before Tuesday, I spent the majority of my Saturday not reading them and have only read twenty pages into the first.

Reading an Irish play can be tricky. The language is colorful, to say the least, and it’s written in a dialect. It’s taken me the better part of an hour to read what I have so far, but I’ve been double dipping between reading and watching SNL. This sketch is kind of dumb.

But anyway, back to the play. The one I’m reading is Colleen Bawn by Dion Boucicault. The plot is fairly straightforward, and I’ve already learned two fun new words. And both of them have the same meaning.

First, spalpeen. Originating in the late 18th century, it can be pronounced either spal-peen or spal-peen. Versatile. According to Dictionary.com, it means “lad, boy, rascal, or scamp.”  It comes from an Irish word meaning “hired laborer.” I like the World English Dictionary’s reference to “rascal or layabout” better. I like this word because it doesn’t sound like anything in English, and is slightly sexual in nature.

Another fun one is blackguard. You may have heard this from the Family Guy episode where Stewie dresses up a la Tootsie to get a role on his favorite TV show, Jolly Farm Revue. I didn’t know what the word meant or even if it was indeed a real word. I actually thought it was “blaggard” because that’s how it’s pronounced, although saying it as if it were a compound of “black” and “guard” is also acceptable. And racist. Defined as “scoundrel,” the word refers to menial workers, who were often called the black guard. My favorite feature of this word is that it can be used as a verb or even an adverb, blackguardly, as in, “My man blackguardly left me with three kids and no money.” Now it’s not only racist, but doubly racist.

I…should probably not incorporate those into my daily speech. Maybe the world’s not ready for them yet.

But they still count in Words With Friends.