Making Up Words

In class, we discussed the poem “The Jabberwocky” which appears in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and reads as follows:

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

     ‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
     Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!’

     He took his vorpal sword in hand:
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
     So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
      And stood awhile in thought.

     And as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
     Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

     One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
     He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

     ‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
     O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
      He chortled in his joy.

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

Although this nonsense poem includes made up words describing a made up creature, we as readers can still understand the poem because it follows the syntax of English with all of it’s wonderful conventions.

Furthermore, some of the nonsense words like “chortle” and “galumph” were were made up by Carroll, yet have entered the English language. I find that unbelievably interesting. This got me to think about lots of other words coined by famous writers and I was reminded about a conversation I had in my high school English class about Shakespeare.

We read the play Hamlet where many new phrases like “the clothes make the man” and “cruel to be kind” come from. In order to fit a certain style of writing, Shakespeare played with words, often time inventing ones of his own. In this way, we have an extended vocabulary and cool phrases to use. It’s so weird to think about words and our everyday language–and where they come from. I love words!

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