Blount, 67, confirms his openness to new ideas with his frequent citations of the website Urbandictionary.com (a site that relies on users to post definitions of youth slang). For his definition of "comma," Blount cites an Urbandictionary.com entry:
'a very important grammar thang. without it, many sentances [sic] would be very different. with comma: I helped my uncle, jack, off his horse. without comma: I helped my uncle jack off his horse.'
"But this is cheating," Blount writes, playing the straight man. "In writing, you'd capitalize Jack as well as I, and the sense would be clear enough without the commas."
If there remained in my mind any inkling of doubt that Blount is a stand-up guy, he swept it away on Monday when I called him at six o'clock in the morning.
"Hi, is this Mr. Blount?" I asked.
He sounded confused. I should have known something was wrong at that point. "Hi, this is Madison Underwood from Birmingham Weekly."
"Yeah. Hey. It's uh... I thought you were calling at 10, my time."
I still have no idea what part of my brain short-circuited and allowed me to accept that 8 a.m. in Birmingham was the same as 10 a.m. in San Francisco. I understand time zones. But at some point last week, in preparation for this interview, I had decided that 8 a.m. was the time I was supposed to call.
"Oh," I said. "Is it not... is it not 10, your time, there?"
There was a brief pause.
I wonder what color my face was.
"Is it nine, your time, there?"
"It's uh, it's West Coast time," Blount said. "I don't know what time it is. I was asleep."
Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God, I thought, while apologizing profusely. I felt how Joe Biden must have felt after realizing that he had asked a wheelchair-bound man to stand up. I felt like I'd accidentally hit myself in the groin.
Mr. Blount explained, gently, that I should call back at 12 noon Central Standard Time, which would be 10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, and hung up.
My editor attempted to console me. "Well, at least he'll remember you."
At noon (which is 10 a.m. in San Francisco) I call Mr. Blount back and ask if there's a word for an unwelcome wake-up call.
"Yeah, there's several," he says, laughing. "But even in the Birmingham Weekly you probably couldn't print them."
As Blount states after the Alphabet Juice entry for "f-word, the," (in which Blount rails against censorship of dirty words in the media): "See bullshit."
Blount has been writing about words for a long time. Thirteen years ago he wrote the foreword to a book called The F Word, but he says he's been keeping notes on words - dirty and otherwise - "literally since high school."
"I never kept a diary for longer than about two days," Blount says. "But I have kept these notebooks. I write down little scraps of stuff in them - dialogue that I overhear, things that I read or ways people use words. Once I got rolling on the book, I developed a theme. You know, the theme, I guess, is resistance to the notion expounded in the linguistics, the science of linguistics, that the relation of words to their meaning is arbitrary. I keep coming back to my conviction that words have inherent value."
In Alphabet Juice, Blount calls words with meanings that relate well to their sounds "sonicky." That term encompasses onomatopoeias like "snap," "piss" and "pop," but it could also include a word like "clunky," which is not an onomatopoeia but, nevertheless, has a heavy tongue feel that relates well to its definition. "Sphincter" - which causes the speaker to tighten and release his throat in the middle of the word - is also sonicky.
"Their sounds and the way they move through our mouths often reinforce the meaning of it, or even grow out of the meaning of it. You can't really study languages, it seems to me, if you just sort of ignore the evidence of your senses when it comes to pronouncing words."
If an entry in Alphabet Juice isn't about a word's sonicky quality, the entry is likely to be slang. Blount, it seems, truly embraces youth slang.
"I never want to be left out," Blount says. "Whenever I hear a term that I haven't heard before my ears perk up. I love slang and the vernacular."
But is the rapid development of our language a good thing? Is English more alive today than ever?
"It used to be that new English like that came up from, I don't know, just the way people talked about animals and dirt and things," Blount says. "It was a little less self-conscious."
Blount says that new words "don't seem to bubble up as juicily as they might once have. But the whole world might not be as juicy as it used to be. It may be a little bit more sane. I don't know."
Even if the new language of our age seems a bit more constructed, clever, or arbitrary than the language of old, Blount finds value in being able to speak the vulgar tongue.
"The glory of American writing - at least since Mark Twain - has always been a blend of the formal English and the vernacular. In many cases, the vernacular has more zing to it than the formal English. But you need both."
Here's a bit of the vernacular that was discovered recently on Urbandictionary.com (maybe Mr. Blount can add it to his next book):
Brainfart n. A massive, horrible release of stupid that is often offensive to the senses and may create a social faux pas in some settings. Brainfarts often result in an intense feeling of embarrassment and shame compounded by an inability to explain what the hell just happened. I was supposed to call Roy Blount Jr. for an interview at 10 a.m. PST, but I had a brainfart, forgot how to tell time, and managed to call him at 6 a.m. PST. I feel like an idiot.
Roy Blount, Jr. will sign copies of Alphabet Juice for Alabama Booksmith at the Doubletree Hotel at 6:30 p.m. CST (that's 4:30 p.m. PST) on Tuesday, Nov. 18. Tickets are $35, and proceeds benefit WBHM. For more information visit