Chortle, Frabjous, Galumph. You might be surprised to know that these three words are English. They were coined back in 1871 by Lewis Carroll in his poem Jabberwocky, a nonsense poem from the story Through the Looking Glass.

A century after the story was published, the Oxford English Dictionary recognised all three words as official English words. Which is funny, because Lewis Carroll made them up.

Chortle is possibly a blend of the words chuckle and snort, and the OED recognises it as both a verb and a noun. As a noun, it means a gleeful laugh. As a verb, it means to laugh in a gleeful way. Frabjous may be a combination of fair and joyous, though it’s not immediately clear from the word itself. It’s an adjective that means delightful and joyous. These meanings are inferred from their use in the poem:

‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
He chortled in his joy.”

Just like ‘galumph‘, a combination of the words gallop and triumph:

He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.”

Lewis Carroll took existing words and re-purposed them, re-imagined them, re-engineered them. He created ‘galumphing’ from the image of a victorious fighter returning in triumph on his galloping horse. That it now means to move in a slow, clumsy manner is another matter altogether.

Lewis Carroll wasn’t creating these words in the hopes that he would one day feature in the OED. Through the Looking Glass was an entertaining children’s tale meant to delight and amuse. The poem itself sounds like gibberish until you read Carroll’s explanation (read it aloud and see for yourself).

Nevertheless, the inclusion of these words in today’s language is a delightful little roadmap for us. Have you ever created something and thought it worthless? Have you written a story that made your readers laugh—not with you but at you? Did you write a piece of code that your boss tossed out the window as ‘utter gibberish’? Don’t be disheartened. Lewis Carroll was published in his lifetime, but I doubt he ever thought his nonsense verse would be as popular as it is today.

Who knows what hidden gems you may have inside you? Take your chortles and make frabjous creations that will, one day, have you galumphing your way into the world’s greatest encyclopaedia!

“The Jabberwocky”. An illustration by John Tenniel for the poem Jabberwocky. First published in Carroll, Lewis, 1871, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Image from Wikipedia.


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About Sabahat Quadri

Sabahat Quadri is an instructional designer and a content developer at Knowledge Platform in Islamabad, Pakistan. A graduate of the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture, she is also a graphic designer, an author, and an editor.


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