WHEN Roy Blount Jr. left SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in 1975 to become a freelance writer, his former coworkers descended on his office to claim the curious items he left behind, like postcards of gigantic vegetables. One editor was given a stuffed raven Blount brought back after covering a chess match in Iceland. But there was one special thing Blount made sure to take with him: notes for a book he would write 30 years later.
Finally, Blount has added to an oeuvre that includes About Three Bricks Shy of a Load with Alphabet Juice. Subtitled 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, it's a celebration of words and sayings ordered like a dictionary, from aa (a Hawaiian word for lava) to Zyzzyva (a type of beetle). Blount picks apart each entry with humor and scholarship and often employs sports as a frame of reference. He agonizes over how to make Oakland A's possessive. ("People should consider what the possessive will be before they give something a name.") The entry baseballese describes phrases such as I take that yard as "gnomically economical." He compares Berraisms with Bushisms and Descartes with a post-game interview.
The chief pleasure of Alphabet Juice is following Blount's meandering path. One of the finest peripheral tales is about an as-told-to piece Blount wrote for SI with Wilt Chamberlain when the Stilt retired in 1974. Blount visited Chamberlain's home in Bel Air after agreeing that Chamberlain would have the final say on the wording, including the headline, which he insisted refer to him as "the dominant" force in sports, not one of them. After tense negotiations, with SI's deadline bearing down, Blount—with help from a smooth-talking switchboard operator, who patched through a call to an SI editor—convinced Wilt it wasn't so bad being a dominant force. Just like Blount himself.
JOAN GRISWOLD (BLOUNT)
PHRASE BE! Blount (with Ernie Banks, below) celebrates language and sports.
CARL IWASAKI (BLOUNT WITH BANKS)
[See caption above]