Sunday, 4 May 2014


John Tenniel's original illustration of "...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
'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.

I Skype chat with my mum nightly and the conversation invariably starts with 'How are you?'. Last night I answered 'frabjous, thank you', which got me a spirited 'What kind of word is that?' - I find strong-minded 87 year-olds can at times be a tad sharp.

It's this kind of word, made up by Lewis Carroll, whose real name was the luscious Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (he had an uncle called Skeffington, which is a brilliant name by any standard). Like many words in his celebrated poem, Jabberwocky, frabjous is a 'nonce word' - a maketty uppity. It's a remarkable work, not only in that it isn't even a standalone piece, but a poem written as a prop in a book (it's from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) - and some of the nonsense in it (chortle and galumph in particular) has passed into the English language. You can discuss beamish and whiffle in your own time.

 Anyway, today I am once again frabjous, thank you for asking.
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1 comment:

Paul said...

The words are nonsense, but offer insights into how English works. Jabberwocky can work an an excellent teaching tool:

'Twas brillig What was? The weather?

slithy toves Are there any other types of tove? Is slithy an adjective? Are toves plural?

gyre and gimble These look like verbs, don't they?

And so on. You'll be relieved that I won't pick through to entire poem in this manner. Callooh! Callay!

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