J is for Jabberwocky and Invented Words
Yesterday I wrote about invented spelling of kids and cats; today I’m writing about invented words by poets. How are these similar?
Kids use their developing knowledge of phonetics to sound out words as they write. Before they become proficient in formal spelling, they write strings of letters to represent individual whole words. Of course, they can “read” their own stories back to listening adults who can’t quite comprehend this early genius.
Invented words, on the other hand, combine familiar sounds with familiar word parts and word meanings to form new words. Invented words also follow grammatical rules. Nonsense nouns, for example, can have an article, be a plural and/or a possessive, or have a noun ending. Nonsense verbs show past, present, or future tense. Adjectives fall into their place just before a noun.
One fairly well-known nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky,” is a poem written by Lewis Carroll (Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898) in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872).
Alice is none other than the major character in Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, the little girl who fell asleep on a riverbank and journeyed to another world, a strange one at that. (And Alice, it turns out, was a real person, the daughter of Dean Liddell, dean of Oxford University, and friend of Carroll.)
Things seem to be backwards in this strange world, so when Alice finds a strangely written book, she holds it in front of a mirror, and lo and behold, a story appears. Or is it a story?
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mom raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
. . .
brillig (noun)….four o’clock in the afternoon (tea-time?)
(the time to begin broiling something for dinner)
slithy (adj)…..lithe and slimy
toves (noun)…badger/lizard creatures with corkscrew tails and noses that can dig holes
gyre (verb)….. go round and round
gimble (verb)… make holes
wabe (noun)… in the grass
mimsy (adj)…flimsy and miserable
borogoves (noun)…shabby looking birds with mop-like feathers
raths (noun)……sort of a green pig
mom (adj)…..lost, away from from home
outgrabe (verb)….. bellow and whistle, shriek and squeak
Does it make better sense now?
Around dinner time, all kinds of crazy things started happening! Weird-looking animals (toves, borogoves, and raths) began doing strange things like digging holes and making a lot of noise. Maybe they sensed the frightful Jabberwocky lurking nearby!
So what. Who cares?
Nonsense poems have a long history. Some say they have been around since Aesop’s fables and early folk tales. The writers play with words and present humorous scenes to stimulate the imaginations of readers. Sometimes hidden meanings lurk behind the words, as when jesters make fun of the ruling powers that be, when double meanings hide the true intent of the words. But as often as not, the words just tell a silly story. The words flow in a rhythmical and pleasing way and provide entertainment for listeners.
The Last Meow
Jabberwocky. Smabberwocky. Enough of that nonsense. How about getting me a snack? All this educational stuff tires my brain.