Ever since the eleventh grade I have loved the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. I really like it since it was one of the song we sang in Choir and because Lewis Carroll makes up so many words. This was something I wrote up about it for a Lingusitics course where I look at the morphemes or the components of the  words.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Looking at this one stanza illustrates the nonsense verse perfectly. Clearly on first look you are confused by all these elements, but Carroll makes sure that the grammar and syntax are perfectly well-formed, and each nonsense word has a clear part of speech. With the invention of many of the words used in Jabberwocky, Carroll clearly has a remarkable grasp of the English language.  Looking at the word created solely in the first stanza: brillig, slithy, toves, gyre, gimble, wabe, mimsy, borogroves, mome, rathes, and outgrabe. Brillig is an obvious reference to part of the day. Slithy adds the morphemes s- to the beginning of lith- and adds a –y to the end. Toves have to be some sort of creature. Gyre is taken from gyroscope, yet this is an actual word that was used in the 1500’s, meaning to spin. Gimble is what a gimlet does, it makes holes in wood. Wabe is a location where the toves live. Mimsy is created by taking –imsy from flimsy and adding an m- from miserable. The borogroves are another creature that borrows things, hence the boro- being used. Mome there hasn’t yet been a conclusive definition of this term but many speculate that it is a combination of “from home.” Raths are another creature. Outgrabe is a distinctive sound something between a bellow and a whistle with a sneeze it the middle. So the first stanza is with translation

Twas that time and the slimy flexible creature
Did rotate and make holes in this location where they live
All miserably flimsy were the creatures that borrowed things
And the Creatures that were lost let out a distinctive sound.

With simply using the words that Carroll smashes together into portmanteau to create the poem makes it a horrible thing to read or hear. A few words that Carroll invented for this poem (namely “chortled”, “galumphing”, “frabjous”, and “vorpal”) have entered into the lexicon. As for other terms like Jubjub bird, frumious Bandersnatch, manxome, uffish, and burbled, they have not as of yet been widely disseminated into culture. Chortled, is a laugh in a breathy, gleeful way, the –nort from snort is place between the ch- and –ed in chuckled. Galumphing is moving in a clumsy, ponderous, or noisy manner. Blending gallop and triumph together. Frabjous means delightful or joyous. Vorpal has been brought into pop culture as a weapon in the popular game series Final Fantasy.

Other words like Jubjub are easily understood within the context of the poem, as well as bandersnatch, it seems like a deadly creature with the term frumious, using the morphs, fuming and furious. Manxsome is a combination of monstrous and fearsome. Uffish is a state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish. Burbled is possibly a mixture of “bleat”, “murmur”, and “warble” using the morphs bl- -ur- and –ble. Yet this also is a word from the 1300’s, meaning to form bubbles as in boiling water. Using so many new words in clever ways clearly shows the inventiveness of Lewis Carroll. Looking at Carroll’s work it inspires me to create new words and write a piece using most of them. Further more it shows that the English language as well as the rest are ever growing and new words are created everyday from frabjous to truthiness.


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