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This is a Wednesday’s Wonderful Words post, in which I chose a word, well-know or otherwise, and discuss why I think it’s so wonderful.

`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, has 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.

This week’s word is jabberwock, and I thought it fitting to open with this poem, before launching into the (deceptively short) dictionary definition.

Jaberwock

/ˈdʒæbərˌwɒk/

noun

1. A playful imitation of language consisting of invented, meaningless words; nonsense; gibberish.

2. An example of writing or speech consisting of or containing meaningless words.

adjective

3. Consisting of or comparable to Jabberwocky; meaningless; senseless

Etymology

1872, nonsense word (perhaps based on jabber) coined by Lewis Carroll, for the poem of the same name, which he published in “Through the Looking-Glass.” The poem is about a fabulous beast called the Jabberwock.

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Jabberwocky is a wonderful poem. It shows how the supposedly “tenuous” links between form and meaning in language are in fact strong, and that the sense of a word is so much more evocative than the meaning of it.

So what if we don’t know what “mimsy” or “outgrabe” mean? We can tell that they are adjectives, based on their context, and the sounds used give a sense (for me) of sliminess, a kind of clammy effect.

A jabberwock is a truly frightening beasts. For it is the beast in our imagination who are the most frightening, not the ones we know about.

It has jaws and claws, it has eyes of flame. Worst of all, it burbles.

It’s name suggests cackling; evil laughter, and inhuman ruthlessness.

The wonderful thing about the word jabberwock is that while it conjures up images – each independent from the images it creates for others – it has come to mean more than this. It has come to define itself: made-up words. Gibberish.

(P.S. I like to read it in a dramatic French accent.)

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