Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The sounds of letters

This review of Roy Blount’s Alphabet Juice is good, but it pales next to the book. Blount likes letters. He says that as long as he remembers he has made them "with my fingers and felt them in my bones." In the midst of a bunch of letters he feels like "a pig in mud." All language at some level is body language. Don’t minimize the connection between high-fiber words (squelch, wobble, sniffle) "and the bodily maneuvers from which they emanate and those they evoke." Keep baby talk in mind. Mmmm, yummy. Mama, mother, mammal, mammary gland. Pay attention to what your lips do when you say those words. Blount is looking for traction. Alphabet juice. While Blount doesn’t think that the sounds of our letters are thoroughly explicable ("Did you know that Hells Angels refer to themselves as ’AJ’ because it sounds so much like ’HA’?"). A tongue is what language is, and the sound is a wonder on the tongue. Under "Kinesthesia":

"From the Greek for ’to move’ and ’to feel.’ A dancer’s kinesthesia is a heightened and cultivated sense of his or her limbs and joints, motivated by a need for expression. A writer’s kinesthesia is an appreciation that words, spoken or written, catch and carry meaning most effectively when they capture the feeling of physical movement.
Sphincter is tight; goulash is lusciously hodgepodgy. Swoon emerged from the Old English swogan, to suffocate, because the mind and the mouth conspired to replace og with oo in order to register a different motion-feeling...." He is looking for sprachgeful and mouth-feel. That’s why movie works better than cinema.

Blount advises writers: "Don’t murder your darlings."

Discussions - 1 Comment

If you have an editor, he will murder your darlings for you.

I have ordered this. It sounds like such fun. It also made me feel better to read this after an evening of playing with my two-year-old granddaughter. She was walking around draped in a blanket and saying, "Queen Lina". So I said it back and we said it to each other in different ways until she looked at me with great seriousness and said "Sour Cream", slowly and carefully and with great exaggeration. So we said that back and forth for a awhile with variations. Then I gave her "phenomenon", which she butchered and then got down pat. Then her mother called her and we were done.

I drove home afterward thinking two things. First, that if I can't be a fool with my grandchild, then what good is life? Second, did I do that sort of thing enough with my own children? I hope so. They all love language, so maybe, yes, enough to count.

I saw this when I got home and felt better about the whole thing, less like a fool.

Thank you.

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