The Clown

Jeffrey L. Bromberger, Just another guy on a soapbox

07 August 2021

Our world is in the midst of rabid Humpty-Dumpty-ism…

In early 1872, one of the finest literary works ever set to paper by man was published.  Lewis Carroll channeled the cosmic magic and, somehow, created the timeless Alice Through the Looking Glass.  For kids of my age, we were introduced to the better portions of this book via the 1951 Disney classic movie.  As an adult, it’s worth reading straight from the original, and if you have not done so, you should.  If you were deprived of seeing the movie, shame on you – rent it!

Today, I am spotlighting a key poem found within the work: Jabberwocky.

I have to wager that many of you know some of it (a close friend from Bryn Mawr was required to memorize it completely for a class…).  And it goes a little something like this:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

Talk about flow, rhythm, grace.  Oh, yeah, and nonsense.  Lots and lots of nonsense.

Alice, at first, is confused by the book where she finds this poem – it dawns on her that the book is printed backwards.  Logical, considering that she’s on the other side of a mirror (looking glass).  But being able to read the words doesn’t make the understanding any easier.

It isn’t until the sixth chapter that Alice runs into Humpty Dumpty…

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Humpty Dumpty.  Hard to think of a guy with this name as being your tutor but, in the mirror world, Alice is forced to make due with what she can find.

Mr. D starts telling Alice about words, in general.  At one point, he uses the word ‘glory’ in a non-standard way.  Alice calls him on it:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’ttill I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean——neither more nor less.”

And, from there, he proceeds to lecture our thoroughly befuddled heroine about the definitions of the words in the first paragraph of the poem.  And it continues to go further downhill from there.


Fast forward to today.  We live in a time and age where words no longer seem to have static definitions – the definitions we were taught in school.  Strangely, it seems as if almost everybody is comfortable with this new condition.   Personally, I started seeing this back in the 1980s.  It was a humorous thing back then – something I could relay at parties for a laugh.  Over time, though, I have watched it grow, stretch, metastasize throughout our communities.  Let this serve as my introduction to the opinions I have on common but seriously misused words.  You’ll see those articles pop up every now and then – keep an eye out for them! 



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