Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky"

Updated July 24, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

The Question:

Is there any type of English translation to Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky? Can you direct me to the site?

The Answer:

Yes and no.

The poem, written by Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, was published in its 1872 sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. It's the most widely known example of nonsense verse. The words are made up, but they have elements of rhythm and rhyme that make them perfect for the poem.

That doesn't mean they were all chosen at random or have no meanings, though. In chapter 6 of the same book, Humpty Dumpty defines several of the words from the first stanza. "Brillig" is four in the afternoon, the time you start broiling things for dinner. "Slithy" is a combination of "lithe and slimy." "Toves" are something like badgers, and something like lizards, and something like corkscrews; they make their nests under sun-dials and live on cheese. And so on. We recommend you read the book itself for the full scene. Better yet, check out Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice, which contains both Alice books and lots of fascinating notes about them.

Some Jabberwocky-related words have entered the English language. In describing words like "slithy" (lithe + slimy) and "mimsy" (flimsy + miserable), Humpty Dumpty says each is like a portmanteau, or a trunk that combines two halves. "Portmanteau words" is now a standard name for such word blends. Among the portmanteaus Carroll invented for Jabberwocky were "galumphing" and "chortled": the former from "gallop" and "triumphant," the latter from "chuckle" and "snort." Both have entered the English language.

Many people have come up with their own translations of Jabberwocky. To learn more about the poem and more about what Carroll might have been writing about, check out the Lewis Carroll Home Page and Glorious Nonsense.

-The Editors

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