Michael Dirda in The Washington Post:
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
Take a look at Alphabet Juice. To all appearances, it might be just one more tributary to the never-ending stream of books about language and proper usage. Haven’t we already had our loosey-goosey grammar and diction excoriated by H.W. Fowler ( Modern English Usage), Theodore Bernstein ( The Careful Writer) and John Simon ( Paradigms Lost)? Haven’t scholars from W.W. Skeat and Eric Partridge to the latest editors of the Oxford English Dictionary unriddled the etymological mysteries behind our most common words? What makes this book by Roy Blount so special?
Well, Blount, of course. You don’t so much read Alphabet Juice as listen to it. The book may be printed, paginated and bound, but I’m guessing that some kind of microchip, probably embedded in the spine, funnels Blount’s ingratiating, slightly disingenuous voice directly into your brain. A given entry — “the f-word,” “subjunctive,” “menu-ese,” “pizzazz” — may start off with a scholarly account of a word or term’s origin, with more than a casual glance at its Proto-Indo-European root, but before long Blount will soft-shoe his way into an anecdote, some comic verse, a bit of wordplay. Look up the phrase “honest broker.” Here we learn that “the word broker stems from the Spanish alboroque, a ceremonial gift at the resolution of a business deal, which in turn is from the Arabic baraka, divine blessing. Barack Obama’s first name comes (by way of his father, same name) from that word.” All fascinating no doubt, but the true Blount wallop — from out of left field — comes in the next paragraph:
“I am told that today a Wall Streeter no longer uses broker as the verb form, but instead endeavors to broke a security. One reason I’m not rich is that I am broker-phobic. I assume they are always trying to unload dreck on people like me and lining up something underhandedly predetermined for insiders: if it ain’t fixed, don’t broke it.”