Jabberwocky, for anyone unfamiliar with Lewis Carroll’s poem, has come to mean “a playful imitation of language consisting of invented, meaningless words; nonsense; gibberish” or speech or writing consisting of such words. 

Have you ever coined a term? Made up a word out of thin air? Carroll certainly did! As you slowly, carefully read his poem, Jabberwocky, what comes to mind? Do you struggle with the meanings of his made-up words, or do you imagine meanings for them and enjoy the rhythm and sound of the words themselves?



’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.

Inventing Language

For a thorough analysis of all that nonsense, see Jabberwocky on Shmoop. If you don’t know Shmoop, you’re missing out.

At least one of the words Lewis Carroll invented and introduced in Jabberwocky is commonly used, today. I’ll bet you’ve used it, yourself, at some point. Do you know which word it is? Think, makd your guess, then click to find out:

Click here to learn more

It’s the word “chortle.” Click the word to go to the Online Etymology and explore they origins of more words. There is also “galumph or galumphing.” If you named either, pat yourself on the back. If you named both, move to the head of the class! If you pointed out that the title is one, you’re just being a bit of a smart aleck, now, aren’t you?

Your Turn

See if you can write a poem – or just a paragraph – mostly consisting of words you’ve plucked from thin air. Will you share it with us in the comments? For what it’s worth, I don’t care if you think you’re not a writer – give it a try. Think of it like singing in the shower. We’re all listening through the door, but we won’t laugh. Because we’re pretty sure we couldn’t do it any better.

If that’s what you’re afraid of – that we’ll say we won’t laugh, but we really will, try thinking of it this way, Doc: “Laughter is the best medicine.” See if you can cure us all.


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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12 thoughts on “Jabberwocky”

  1. I wrote a comment but it vanished into cyberspace.
    Yep, Jabberwocky is one of my favorite poems.
    Every now and then, at random times, I’ll recite it… for no reason!
    I am writing a poem today about jars.
    Jarring jars.
    Jarrilicious jars.
    Oops, I already started.
    Oh and don’t spend that $13 in one place!!!

  2. Yes, several words are now in common use…..

    Ah, but you forgot: The frumious Bandersnatch!”
    Used all Over Larry Niven’s KNOWN SPACE and RINGWORLD Stories!
    The Ringworld is Unstable! Or so they say!

    AND: O frabjous day! In certain communities, Frabjous, has even been used as a male name. It means of course, wonderful, awesome.

    AND: Callooh! Callay!” Some say they inspired some of the Magic Words in Oz. I have no idea. I merely report what someone else once said to me.

    And: He took his vorpal sword in hand;
    I am told that in some science fiction universes this fabulous thing exists! As for me, Princess, give me a good blaster. Altho, a nice 1066er might come in handy, too! (But that refers to a different Princess!) Altho, a good phaser rifle and a dozen power packs are more my personal style. I like firepower!

    As for rumors I am insane, well mind your mimsy borogoves, we are all a little bit off kilter. Nothing a few Heisenberg Compensators won’t fix. Tho for certain Blondes (Most of the ones I know!), you need the high powered heavy duty duty ones, I am told…..

    As for my poetry, well that usually is very bad, so I will spare you. Oh, I have been inspired on occasion! But not today. Damm but you are lucky, the ODD time.

    Mr. Sulu, evasive course, Nano Delta 7, Shields UP! Get us outa here. Engage, warp 6!

  3. I’ve loved this poem for years. There is a science fiction story from long ago that dealt with aliens that left a learning device (like a handheld Game Boy, but before they were invented) on Earth accidentally, and two children found it. This poem was a part of the story. I only wish I could remember who wrote the story.

    1. Hmm. I tried to find that through Google, but no joy – let me know if you figure it out! Wikipedia says it’s been used in a few songs, and may have been the inspiration for the Vogon poetry in Hitchhiker’s Guide.

      1. Mimsy Were the Borogoves, by “Lewis Padgett” (pseudonym) first published in 1943. It’s obvious that my memory of the story (which I must have read while in college, in the early 1970’s), is flawed but I know that was the story-I found an article on it on Wikipedia. There is a twist to the story, which I had also forgotten, but it may interest you.
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  4. Mr. Quantum and I wrote our own language. It has been his life long project. We can speak marginally fluently. But that’s not really making up words.

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