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Summary Article: Jabberwocky
from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

The eponymous central figure of a strange, almost nonsensical poem in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1871). It contains many significant PORTMANTEAU WORDS, as subsequently explained to Alice by HUMPTY DUMPTY.

The creature's name appears to indicate a ‘wock’ that ‘jabbers’, but as the poem is a mock medieval ballad, with ‘Anglo-Saxon’ words invented by Carroll, one may look for a mock medieval derivation for the name itself. When a class in the Girls’ Latin School, Boston, Massachusetts, wrote to Carroll to ask permission to name their magazine The Jabberwock, he replied in a letter dated 6 February 1888 follows:

Mr Lewis Carroll has much pleasure in giving to the editresses of the proposed magazine permission to use the title they wish for. He finds that the Anglo-Saxon word ‘wocer’ or ‘wocor’ signifies ‘offspring’ or ‘fruit’. Taking ‘jabber’ in its ordinary acceptation of ‘excited and voluble discussion’, this would give the meaning of ‘the result of much excited discussion’. Whether this phrase will have any application to the projected periodical, it will be for the future historian of American literature to determine. Mr Carroll wishes all success to the forthcoming magazine.

morton n. cohen (ed.): The Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll 1982

Carroll was not indulging in whimsy for once, for Old English wōcer or wōcor does mean ‘offspring’, as he says.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2012

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