From Academic Kids

For other uses of the name Jabberwocky, see Jabberwocky (disambiguation).

"Jabberwocky" or "ykcowrebbaJ" is a poem (of nonsense verse) found in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll. It is generally considered to be the greatest nonsense poem written in the English language.


The Poem

Missing image
The Jabberwock, as illustrated by John Tenniel
'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.


Several of the words in the poem are of Carroll's own invention, many of them portmanteaus. In the book, the character of Humpty Dumpty gives definitions for the nonsense words in the first stanza. Lewis Carroll came up with other versions too. An extended analysis of the poem is given in the book The Annotated Alice, including writings from Carroll about how he formed some of his idiosyncratic words. A few words that Carroll invented in this poem (such as "chortled" and "galumphing") have entered the language. The word jabberwocky itself is sometimes used to refer to nonsense language.

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

Bandersnatch – A swift moving creature with snapping jaws. Capable of extending its neck. (From The Hunting of the Snark.)
Borogove – A thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round, something like a live mop.
Brillig – Four o'clock in the afternoon: the time when you begin broiling things for dinner (according to Misch-Masch, a handwritten magazine produced by Carroll in 1855 for his family and friends "bryllyg is the time of broiling dinner, i.e. the close of the afternoon"). It is derived from the verb to bryl or broil. Note that in Misch-Masch bryllyg is spelt with two ys rather than with two is as were used later in the published version of Looking-Glass.
Burbled – Possibly a mixture of "bleat", "murmur", and "warble". ( according to Carroll in a letter [1] (http://www.cd.chalmers.se/~jessica/Jabberwock/maud.html)).
Frumious – Combination of "fuming" and "furious." (From the Preface to The Hunting of the Snark.)
Gimble – To make holes like a gimlet.
Gyre – To go round and round like a gyroscope. (Gyre is an actual word, circa 1566, meaning a circular or spiral motion or form; especially a giant circular oceanic surface current.)
Jubjub – A desperate bird that lives in perpetual passion. (From The Hunting of the Snark.)
Mimsy – Combination of "flimsy" and "miserable."
Mome – (Possibly) short for "from home," meaning that the raths had lost their way.
Outgrabe – Something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.
Rath – A sort of green pig. (See Origin and Structure for further details.)
Slithy – Combination of "lithe" and "slimy."
Toves – A combination of a badger, a lizard, and a corkscrew. They are very curious looking creatures which make their nests under sundials. They live on cheese.
Uffish – A state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish. (according to Carroll (http://www.cd.chalmers.se/~jessica/Jabberwock/maud.html) in a letter).
Wabe – The grass plot around a sundial. It is called a "wabe" because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it, and a long way beyond it on each side.


In the Preface to The Hunting of the Snark, Carroll wrote:
[Let] me take this opportunity of answering a question that has often been asked me, how to pronounce "slithy toves." The "i" in "slithy" is long, as in "writhe"; and "toves" is pronounced so as to rhyme with "groves." Again, the first "o" in "borogoves" is pronounced like the "o" in "borrow." I have heard people try to give it the sound of the "o" in "worry." Such is Human Perversity.

Origin and Structure

The first stanza of the poem originally appeared in Mischmasch, a periodical that Carroll wrote and illustrated for the amusement of his family. It was entitled "Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry." Carroll also gave translations of some of the words which are different from Humpty Dumpty's. For example, a "rath" is described as a species of land turtle that lived on swallows and oysters.

Roger Lancelyn Green, in the Times Literary Supplement (March 1, 1957), and later in The Lewis Carroll Handbook (1962), suggests that the rest of the poem may have been inspired by an old German ballad, "The Shepherd of the Giant Mountains." In this epic poem "a young shepherd slays a monstrous Griffin." It was translated into English by Lewis Carroll's relative Menella Bute Smedley in 1846, many years before the appearance of the Alice books.

The poem is particularly interesting because, although it contains many nonsensical words, the structure is perfectly consistent with classic English poetry. The sentence structure is accurate (another aspect that has been challenging to reproduce in other languages), the poetic forms are observed (e.g. quatrain verse, rhymed, iambic meter), and a "story" is somewhat discernible in the flow of events. According to Alice in Through the Looking Glass, "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don't exactly know what they are!"


"Jabberwocky" has become famous around the world, with translations into many languages, including Spanish, German, Latin, French, Italian, Czech, Hungarian, Russian, Japanese, and Esperanto. The following translations of the first stanza are the work of Frank L. Warrin (French) and Robert Scott (in German):

Il brilgue: les tves lubricilleux
Se gyrent en vrillant dans le guave.
Enmms sont les gougebosqueux
Et le mmerade horsgrave.
Es brillig war. Die schlichten Toven
Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben;
Und aller-mmsige Burggoven
Die mohmen Rth' ausgraben.

The task of translation is the more notable and difficult because many of the principal words of the poem were simply made up by Carroll, having had no previous meaning. What the translators have done with the invented words, it appears, is to make up words of their own that have a minimal Levenshtein distance (up to homophones) from Carroll's, while respecting the morphology of the language to be translated into. Both the original and the invented words echo actual words in the lexicon, but not necessarily ones with similar meanings. Nonetheless, the overall spirit of the poem is preserved.

Derivative works

  • In 1971, Donovan released his children's album H.M.S. Donovan, which features the poem "Jabberwocky" set to music. The melody is identical to that of "Celtic Rock", a Donovan song released on Open Road in 1970.
  • In 1977, Terry Gilliam directed a movie called Jabberwocky. A poster for the movie featured a colorized version of the Jabberwocky illustration, and the first stanza of the poem is recited at the start of the film. The movie's plot very loosely resembles that of the poem.
  • Jabberwocky is also the name of a boss monster in the SNES game Secret of Mana. However, the character's appearance bears little resemblance to the Tenniel illustration.


The Jabberwocky has inspired countless parodies. One, by Larry Colen, replaces nonsense words with computer jargon. It begins:

Twas Unix and the C++
Did compile and load upon the VAX:
All Ritchie was the Kernighan,
And LISP ran in GNU EMACS.

See also

  • Jabberwacky, a chatty Artificial Intelligence with a touch of wockiness

External links


it:Jabberwocky de:Jabberwocky ja:ジャバウォックの詩


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Art)
    • Architecture (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Architecture)
    • Cultures (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Cultures)
    • Music (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Music)
    • Musical Instruments (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/List_of_musical_instruments)
  • Biographies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Biographies)
  • Clipart (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Clipart)
  • Geography (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Geography)
    • Countries of the World (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Countries)
    • Maps (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Maps)
    • Flags (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Flags)
    • Continents (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Continents)
  • History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History)
    • Ancient Civilizations (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Ancient_Civilizations)
    • Industrial Revolution (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Industrial_Revolution)
    • Middle Ages (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Middle_Ages)
    • Prehistory (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Prehistory)
    • Renaissance (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Renaissance)
    • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
    • United States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/United_States)
    • Wars (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Wars)
    • World History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History_of_the_world)
  • Human Body (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Human_Body)
  • Mathematics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Mathematics)
  • Reference (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Reference)
  • Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Science)
    • Animals (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Animals)
    • Aviation (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Aviation)
    • Dinosaurs (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Dinosaurs)
    • Earth (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Earth)
    • Inventions (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Inventions)
    • Physical Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Physical_Science)
    • Plants (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Plants)
    • Scientists (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Scientists)
  • Social Studies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Social_Studies)
    • Anthropology (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Anthropology)
    • Economics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Economics)
    • Government (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Government)
    • Religion (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Religion)
    • Holidays (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Holidays)
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Solar_System)
    • Planets (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Planets)
  • Sports (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Sports)
  • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
  • Weather (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Weather)
  • US States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/US_States)


  • Home Page (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php)
  • Contact Us (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Contactus)

  • Clip Art (http://classroomclipart.com)
Personal tools