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The premise is pretty simple and straightforward: [caterpillar, moth, worm, bug of some sort] eats its way through a dictionary, one letter at a time. It is only able to speak using words starting with the letters it had eaten. By the time it reached "Z" it was quite the sesquipedalian. The only quote I recall from it was after having eaten "A" it said something like "aloha, amiable ant!" to a passing-by ant. I am pretty sure this was a real, whole book, and not some fever dream.

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  • For what it is worth, I think I remember that book too, but I have not been able to figure out the title with the searches I just did. Feb 6 at 22:01

2 Answers 2

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This is "The Story of Lengthwise" by Ernestine Cobern Beyer

Lengthwise was a bookworm who made his home in a dictionary.

He began life among the A's and started nibbling right away.

A-words were very tasty. They were flavored with printer's ink, and the paper had a crispy, crunchy crackle like cornflakes. As he swallowed each A-word, Lengthwise digested its meaning. It wasn't long before he had tunneled his way from "an" to "at", having grown smarter and stronger with every bite.

Page 15

Once more Lengthwise did his little best. "Advance, amiable ant!", he began. "Amazing adventures await!"

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    This must be it! The quote is bang-on. Thank you so much for managing to find it! Now I will need to find my own copy.
    – dmg
    Feb 8 at 22:13
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It does not contain the exact phrase the OP recalls ("Aloha amiable ant"), but otherwise Wally the Wordworm by Clifton Fadiman is a good match. Wally is a bookworm who gets dissatisfied by a diet of monosyllabic words on tabloid newspapers, sweet wrappings, and silly children's books.

So he slithered and slathered and wriggled and waggled his way into the library until he found a big fat book called DICTIONARY. This book was filled, stuffed crammed, and jammed with words of all shapes and sizes.

Wally did not begin at "A" though.

He started near the back with a word just right for a hungry, growing worm:

SESQUIPEDALIAN

said Wally. “That means long word and looks like it, too.” This went down pretty well and Wally looked around for another sesquipedalian.

So he then went to "antidisestablishmentarianism", and eventually worked his way back to "zymurgy".

The book is available for free loan at the Internet Archive.

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    I'm definitely going to check this one out because it sounds cute, but it doesn't sound like the book I'm looking for. I'm confident that whoever the main critter was, ate through the dictionary in alphabetical order. Not necessarily one letter at a time, but definitely A through to Z.
    – dmg
    Feb 8 at 2:15
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    It looks as though Quassnoi has nailed it - but I hope you enjoy looking at this book anyway! Feb 8 at 6:43

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