September 12, 2007

The Jabberwocky Decoded

One of my favorite poems is "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. The poem is known round the world for innovative use of portmanteau (combination of multiple words to produce new meaning) and has been discussed endlessly in classrooms.

Carroll would have died laughing if he could see us now. He originally wrote the poem as an example of how not to write poetry and to make fun of what he thought was a pretentious art form.

Alice of Wonderland herself reacted in this way to the poem,
"It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to understand!" (You see she didn't like to confess even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas--only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate---"

And yet, the world remains smitten with the poem. Here is the poem as Carroll wrote it in 1871 and next to it my version with his nonsense words explained to the best of my ability from his definitions and my own whimsy. Carroll was pressed by fans to provide both pronunciations and definitions to many of his new words and so an understandable translation is not only possible, but helps us see how much fun Carroll was having at our expense (click the poem to enlarge the text):


Ironically, a handful of the words that Carroll made up for this poem have since wiggled their way into common usage. 'Chortled,' 'galumphing,' 'frabjous' and 'vorpal' are a few you may occasionally hear in conversation. Sorry, Lewis, we just can't take a joke.

Alright everyone, what are some of your favorite portmanteaus? Tell us the words you used to create them and their new meaning. Spike, I know you have a few of these (sarchasm, Bennifer...).

16 comments:

Angela said...

i love your version, sarah! i like the part about the allergy attacks.

Adum said...

the washington post has a contest every year where you make up new words out of existing words. here's a link:

http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?t=57966

you're a poetic genius, by the way

Summer said...

One of my very favorite poems too!

Colleen said...

I learned Jabberwocky by heart in seventh grade and can still recite it verbatim. Much to Jim's dismay.

Suzie Petunia said...

Is "comfy" really a word? I use it all the time. I saw it today in a Target ad, so it must be legit, right?

Jessica G. said...

Always did like that poem. But I never knew he didn't mean it as "real" poetry. My favorite is Hunting the Snark.

P.S.
(I think adum likes you...)

Th. said...

.

Hoo. My entire blog is composed of portmanteaus starting with everyword that stars in th- and everthing inbetween. Svithe, for instance. I hardly know where to start.

Glo said...

I had this amazing philosophy in literature class where we devoted 6 amazing weeks to Carroll. In the end, I was left with respect and pity for someone so underappreciated and misinterpreted.

Marie said...

If people read the entire Alice Through the Looking Glass instead of just Jabberwocky, it would be pretty obvious what Carroll is doing. By the time you get to Humpty Dumpty, it's clear he's mocking literary analysis and its pretentions. And not just with Jabberwocky -- with most of the verses he writes (Snark! ha!) But I think he was also like ee cummings. He liked to play with the spaces outside ordinary language -- semantically, phonetically...I mean, the dude was a prof of logic at Oxford...so he didn't usually invent words and ideas purely to sound silly and entertain little girls, but to tickle at those spaces just outside his stuffy Victorian world that needed to be named before they could enter reality. Or his twisted version of reality, anyway. My reality, now -- I love the Alice books.

I invented a portmanteau years ago for my cousin. She was in love with this guy in her BYU ward -- she described how nice and how spiritual he was, and then how HOT. I told her she sounded smitterpated. Smitten and twitterpated. In love both deeply and shallowly. She laughed, but she never used the word again. [Sniff.]

Michael said...

I've always like Zardoz. (Wizard of Oz)

That is a portmanteau is it not?

Presser Tim Intervalidus said...

I've always had a strange attachment to this poem and have had it memorized since I was 12-ish. Funny how you posted this on my birthday.

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