Saturday, August 04, 2007

Jabberwocky: Toward a working definition

I recently realized that I have been using a word and concept that I have yet to explain. You might have seen a post with Jabberwocky in the title followed by some jumbled or nonsensical writing (or linguistic things that only I think are funny).

Well, Jabberwocky "is a poem of nonsense verse written by Lewis Carroll, and found as a part of his novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). It is generally considered to be one of the greatest nonsense poems written in the English language" (via). A sample of Jabberwocky is

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
In common usage, Carroll's term has come to refer to nonsensical language, or something that is superficially or fundamentally confusing. So, here at SaysSimpleton, you might find eavesdropped academic jabberwocky, proverbial jabberwocky, or just plain old jabberwocky proper to name a few.

Let me give one brief illustration of the concept and usage. This week I was in the computer lab and I saw a friend from the dorms that I hadn't seen since I moved out. When I was there, me and said friend were two of the few die hard 24 fans that would watch in suspense every week. We were brothers in arms, as there were many Bauer haters in the dorm. Our conversation went like this:
"Hey man, it's been a while . . ."

"I know it has . . ."

"What did you think of 24 last season?"
Said friend stops in the middle of the computer room and slowly raises his hand with his thumb sticking out horizontally. After a brief pause and with a face that grew increasingly contorted, he slowly turned his thumb to face downward toward the ground. This was accompanied by an eeeeehhhhhhhhhhh, sound.

After a moment of personal shock and horror I responded, "What are you talking about?"

With a smug grin on his face, he exclaimed for all to hear: "Man, I switched to HEROES!"

As you can obviously see, this is a particularly poignant case of relational treason conversational jabberwocky.

Regardless of whether or not you feel that this illustration qualifies as jabberwocky, this is how I've appropriated this concept and term.

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I also occasionally post annotations that I make as I read Cormac McCarthy at "Reading Cormac McCarthy."

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