Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lewis Carrol, Lewis Caroll (for Lewis Carroll)

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

Lewis Carroll wrote "Jabberwocky" on a lark, purportedly as a parody of bad poetry. It's now regarded as the greatest "nonsense poem" in the English language. "Jabberwocky" was published in 1871 in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, although the first verse was originally printed in Mischmasch, a magazine the young Charles Dodgson (Carroll's given name) had put out for the entertainment of his family. Carroll provided definitions for some of the words that appear in the poem; about others he claimed ignorance. A few of his inventions are "portmanteau words" and have since entered the lexicon ("chortle" is a combination of chuckle and snort; "galumphing" an amalgam of galloping and triumphant). Scholars have had a field day with "Jabberwocky," about which Alice herself remarked: "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don't exactly know what they are!" Though the words in "Jabberwocky" may be hard to spell, our typo today is for the author himself. Lewis Carrol comes "whiffling through the tulgey wood" (i.e., OhioLINK) nine times, and Lewis Caroll twice.

(Portrait of Carroll by Victorian art photographer Oskar Gustav Rejlander, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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