Jabberwocky: Do writers still invent words?

2015-11-26 09.55.55

Image: Copyright Lynn Love 2015


The above rather dodgy image is mine.

I don’t mean I bought it somewhere, downloaded it or purloined it in some nefarious activity. No, it’s mine as in, I drew it. I ‘aged’ the paper with tea, creased it to look as though it had been locked in an ancient chest for centuries, shaped the slightly broken-necked creature.

It comes from a time, twenty plus years ago when I still drew – if not brilliantly, and in a rather 6th form, indie-pretentious way – before I realised there were people who could do that stuff way better than I could, so hey, why not leave them to it and I’ll get on with the reading, scribbling lark.

Now, the reason I’m sharing my ropy, New-Age doodle is because of a conversation that happened just this a.m here, at Love Towers. (No, the house isn’t really called that – only in my head.)

My son came downstairs and said he’d been looking at The Jabberwocky. For those of you unfamiliar it, it’s a poem, a saga of youth triumphing over monster in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll.

‘It’s all made up,’ said my son.

He meant the words, not the creature, for as we all know Jabberwockys are entirely factual, if critically endangered largely because they backed themselves into an evolutionary corner by restricting their diet to Mock Turtle soup and Kendal Mint Cake, the numbers of Mock Turtles having dropped severely over recent years due to cat predation. It’s a serious and seriously neglected issue – I shall raise a petition.

Anyway, back to the poem.

Just in this opening stanza, Carroll has invented –

‘brillig’, ‘slithy’, ‘toves’, ‘wabe’, ‘mimsy’, ‘borogroves’, ‘mome raths’, ‘outgrabe’.

That’s a lot to make up, even for a nonsense poem. And a few of the words from the poem have passed into popular usage –  I love ‘burble’  and ‘galumphing’ truly is a work of genius – you can almost hear the weight in the syllables.

I started to wonder – does this really happens anymore?

Do writers take existing words and smoosh them together – such as ‘slithy’, a mixture of ‘lith’ and ‘slimy’ according to Humpty Dumpty – or is language now more static than it used to be, with new words only being added to the dictionary through common usage by the general public, rather than being sneaked in by writers?

Of course, words for new concepts were still being invented in the twentieth century – George Orwell’s 1984 gifted us Newspeak, Big Brother (as an allusion to an overtly intrusive State), Room 101 (somewhere holding your worst nightmares) – the title itself becoming shorthand for a distopian future. It’s a tribute to Orwell’s prescience that the terms still feel relevant today. 

We can all name instances of character names which are widely known – Katniss Everdeen, Dumbledore* – but in recent years have authors invented verbs or adjectives which we now use everyday? Will they ever again?

Come on, you clever lot. I’m sure you can all think of some examples I’m ignorant of. Enlighten me.


*Though Dumbledore was a dialect word for bumblebee, so not strictly original.


11 thoughts on “Jabberwocky: Do writers still invent words?

    1. Thanks for the link, Bill. I’d never heard of him, but he certainly sounds as if he was an interesting – and eloquent – man. Really interesting, thanks 🙂


      1. They made a film about him recently too; I haven’t seen it but funny, to make a film about a writer, especially as odd a writer as he was, and really gifted.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Really cool drawing by the way. I’ve been wanting to draw my own map of Scotland (Tolkien style) and this gives me courage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, thanks! I maybe could’ve improved beyond the 6th form, dragon-obsessed teen faze, but I lost my love for it and eventually drifted to words.
      Good luck with the map if you make it – hope you’ll share a photo of it on your blog. Will it be an old style, manuscript one – like those amazing Mappa Mundis, filled with men using their own giant feet as umbrellas?


      1. Yes, I would love to have the patience and focus to draw an old-style kind. There’s something so intriguing about old maps like that, especially when they have sea serpent silhouettes and fake waves.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Cold-blooded, assassination, bloodstained, torture, accused, premeditated, critic, grovel, swagger, excitement, lackluster, puking, amazement, arouse and gossip were all invented by Shakespeare. It’s a FACT. Did you read A Clockwork Orange? Burgess makes-up and entire language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’ve often wondered if all of Shakespeare’s words were infact invented by him, or if he was just the first to include them in a play – I’m sure many are his, no doubt.
      I think it must have been easier for writers to invent words before the rise of the dictionary, before words were so pinned down – language seems much more flexible back then. Shakespeare’s name was spelt in at least half a dozen different ways during and shortly after his lifetime.
      And yes, of course – Burgess and his Droogs. Are you aware of any of his words that have passed into common usage?


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