Saturday, October 04, 2008

a real treat for word lovers

Roy Blount has a new book coming out called 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.

In it, Blount writes:

To me, letters have always been a robust medium of sublimation. … We're in the midst of a bunch of letters, and if you're like me, you feel like a pig in mud. What a great word mud is. And muddle, and muffle, and mumble. … You know the expression "Mum's the word." The word mum is a representation of lips pressed together. … The great majority of languages start the word for "mother" with an m sound. The word mammal comes from the mammary gland. Which comes from baby talk: mama. To sound like a grownup, we refine mama into mother; the Romans made it mater, from which: matter. And matrix. Our word for the kind of animal we are, and our word for the stuff that everything is made of, and our word for a big cult movie all derive from baby talk.

What are we saying when we say mmmm? We are saying yummy. In the pronunciation of which we move our lips the way nursing babies move theirs. The fact that we can spell something that fundamental, and connect it however tenuously to mellifluous and manna and milk and me (see M), strikes me as marvelous.


the7msn said...

Must get this book! Roy Blount is a regular on NPR's weekly news quiz Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and I just love him. Thanks for sharing the excerpt.

billie said...

He's great, isn't he?

His daughter is a friend. We worked together and went through first pregnancies together.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Sounds like a really interesting book. I'll have to check it out.

billie said...

Arlene, it's now in my Amazon cart. :)

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Humans are such odd and interesting creatures, aren't we?

Interesting book, Billie.

I just trotted over here to tell you thanks for the wonderfully supportive and kind comments you left for me on my blog, concerning my son's injury.
It is much appreciated :)

Take Care,

billie said...

Lisa, you're most welcome. I trust he is doing well today. Sending more good thoughts right now.

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie - You've given me just the escape I need - I'm going to check out Roy's book - He's great!

billie said...

It seems like the perfect book for a fall release - something good to read while sipping cocoa!