May 16, 2011 Nobody fiddles with words better than Roy Blount Jr. A regular on National Public Radio’s quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the Vanderbilt graduate also serves as a usage adviser to The American Heritage Dictionary and has written two books—2009’s Alphabet Juice and this summer’s Alphabetter Juice—that are sort of like dictionaries in their own right, only dictionaries glossed by a master comic. “Anyone who undertakes the literary grind had better like playing around with words,” Blount explains in a new essay in The Wall Street Journal:
I don’t mean playing around with words as an end in itself. I like a writer who gets off on words, but not one who gets off on getting off on words. That writer is out to impress more than to express. That writer is like … a bullfighter who pays more attention to his cape than to the bull. But the cape and the sword and the little hat are what the bullfighter has to work with. (I think it’s the hat that really outrages the bull: “This is the kind of hat you wear to play around with a bull?”) The bull is what is on the writer’s mind, in the writer’s heart, in the writer’s sights. But words are what it takes to get at the bull.
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