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Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Sublime and the Ridiculous 3 

Another week gone by. More sublime and ridiculous happenings to report to you. Interestingly, there have been an inordinate number of sublime moments this week. And, I have felt the lack of ridiculousness quite acutely. However, I shall not disappoint you. Yes, Virginia, there is a ridiculous posting this week.

Contrary to form, though, I am going to start with sublime. There are many sights to behold in the evening downtown: lousy buskers, amateurish drug dealers, angry shoppers, and overflowing garbage bins. Yet, our urban metropolis does sometimes contain elements of the sublime. Since I spend most of my evenings downtown, I get to see one of them quite regularly at this time of year. The Sheraton Wall Centre puts LED Christmas lights to the best use I've seen yet. Who could have predicted that energy-saving bulbs could look so lovely? If you don't believe me, behold the pictures and judge for yourself - or check out the real thing!

Now, the ridiculous. I will preface this by saying that I am going to strech the constraints of this category by discussing something that appears ridiculous when first beheld, but upon further examination, is anything but. I am speaking of the poem, "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. You will find it in Through the Looking Glass which is the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. Rather than post the entire poem here, I will give you some snippets of its seemingly ridiculous sections. The speaker in the poem cautions us to: "Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!" He also tells us that: "The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, came whiffling through the tulgey wood, and burbled as it came." And, finally, when the young man in the poem slays the Jabberwocky, he celebrates by saying: "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy."

So, what was Lewis Carroll smoking and where can I get some!? I mean, it is common knowledge that Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "Kubla Kahn" after having some drug-induced dreams. Was Lewis Carroll using a frequent flyer card at his local opium den? Possibly. Nevertheless, this poem actually demonstrates Carroll's understanding of linguistics in amazingly complex ways. For example, "frumious," is clearly an adjective. It precedes a noun and the suffix, "-ous" is commonly found on the end of adjectives. Carroll actually used the words, "fuming" and "furious" to create "frumious" which encompasses elements of meaning from both words.

Another example of the method behind Caroll's madness is "burbled." "Burbled" is a verb. Again, its placement in the sentence tells us this as well as the "-ed" ending, indicating that it is in the past tense. Carroll created this word using a technique called "blending." He took "bleat," "murmer," and "warble" and combined parts of each word to create "burble" which, like "frumious," takes on elements of meaning from all three.

Finally, "chortled," a made up verb, created by blending "chuckled" and "snorted," is actually one of two words that Carroll created in this poem that have ended up in the standard English dictionary. Inventing a word is the coolest kind of ridiculousness.

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