Last week, our weekly inspirational newsletter for language professionals, Prompt!, asked subscribers to write a short piece using mainly made-up words. As an example, we gave them the first verse of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. I give you here the first and sixth verses.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
The fascinating thing about this poem, besides the fact that the nonsense or gibberish words actually get some meaning thanks to their sounds and the recognisable words around them, is that the verb ‘chortle’ became a perfectly acceptable English word afterwards. It means to laugh mixed with giggle (I always hear a baby gurgle-laughing for ‘chortle’). The word ‘galumphing’, also a figment of Carroll’s semantic imagination, is another neologism now perfectly established in everyday English.
The novel Finnegans Wake used quark as a nonce word and physicist Murray Gell-Mann adopted it to be the name of a subatomic particle.
And as a bit of extra inspiration, the Monty Python sketch: Rutland Weekend Television.