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Nonsense Thursday, January 24th, 2008

William Kremer

Professor Hugh Haughton, University of York
Catherine Chapman, BBC Learning English language expert

Programme Summary:
This programme is a load of nonsense! The word nonsense may be familiar to you, but how do we use it in everyday English? William talks to an expert about nonsense poetry and explores the world of gibberish and gobbledygook...

RIGHT: This week's caller, Dmitry from Ukraine
Dmitry from Ukraine

Poems from the programme:
Hugh quotes the first few lines of this very famous English nonsense poem, which appeared in the book 'Alice in Wonderland'. When the heroine, Alice, hears the poem, she says that it fills her head with ideas but she doesn't know what they are. Hugh says that this is 'a very interesting commentary on nonsense'.

It contains many made-up words which don't have a meaning but which suggest words which do exist. For example, slithy is a combination of lithe and slimy.

'Jabberwocky' by 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.
"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.

Hugh also quoted the following well-known English nursery rhyme. He says of this rhyme, 'I think you feel the recognisable elements of the world are being animated and dynamised and kind of behaving in a weird way and it's pleasurable.' It makes the ordinary things in the world extraordinary.

'Hey Diddle Diddle'

Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such fun
And the dish ran away with the spoon!

As an example of a gibberish or gobbledygook poem, Hugh quotes the first few lines of the following. Hugo Ball was a German Dadaist poet, who died in 1927.

'Karawane' by Hugo Ball

jolifanto bambla o falli bambla
großiga m'pfa habla horem
egiga goramen
higo bloiko russula huju
hollaka hollala
anlogo bung
blago bung blago bung
bosso fataka
ü üü ü
schampa wulla wussa olobo
hej tatta gorem
eschige zunbada
wulubu ssubudu uluwu ssubudu
tumba ba-umf
kusa gauma
ba - umf

Useful links:

University of York*
The Plain English Campaign*

* The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites