There was me, that is Sarah, sat in front of the puter in my woolly toofles, after a hard day’s rabbiting, fagged and in need of a bit of spatchka, trying to gather together my messels and make up my rassoodock as to what slovos to write for this bloggywog. And I must confess, O my brothers, that I was feeling a malenky bit poogly, viddying well that I was merely a gloopy devotchka out of my depth-wise in amongst all these linguisto-sophistos and simply did not know where to begin or what to, like, skazat…
You see, my little malchicks and ptitsas, Brother Dizraeli was right, language is the lewdies that live it and language can be divisive, O yes, and it can also be infectious. And I, Bog forgive me, have been infected to the very core of my gulliver with Nadsat.
Nadsat? What, pray, is that? Is that, like, a Russian slovo for satnav or some such cal? No, no, no my droogies, Nadsat is the slovo for teen, as in teenager, and is the name of the invented slang of the oomny raskazz A Clockwork Orange by that zammechat chelloveck Anthony Burgess. It’s a book about the vile exploits of a young prestoopnik malchick called Alex, that, like, really makes you think about the horrible, horrible world we live in, full of, like, immorality and ultra-violence.
The novel is a work of genius: dazzlingly inventive in its use of English; a magisterial, surreal, sickening, truly thought-provoking, perpetually relevant study of good, evil and free will. Consider the political climate in Britain at the moment, with all this talk of a ‘broken society’. Burgess was writing about all that dystopian cal when David Cameron was in short platties.
The sinny film is pretty amazing, too, though not pleasant, not pleasant at all. Narrated entirely in Nadsat – a bizarre combination of cockney rhyming slang, gypsy talk, anglicised Russian, biblical archaicisms and ludic schoolboy speak – it is alienating at first. That’s kind of the point. Watch the film’s opening sequence – go on, it won’t take long (2 mins) – it’s brilliant.
If you want to get a real flavour of the language have a quick smeck at this next scene. Bit of context for you: Alex – who let’s not forget is the psychopathic leader of a gang of burgling, raping, murdering teenage sadists, so not exactly boy scout material – is sat in the Korova Milkbar. The aptly-named Dim is about to make an ill-advised attempt to challenge his leader’s authority. (Worth warning you that Alex gets a bit touchy about classical music, especially Beethoven.) The language is just breathtaking…
Argument in the milkbar (2.5 mins)
It’s so creepy, isn’t it, this silly-slinky-sinister-slithering-slang. Gets under your skin.
Important to pin down exactly what we mean by slang, mind. The Macmillan Dictionary definition alludes to the fact that the term can refer either to workaday informal expressions or, as in the case of Nadsat, the deliberately obtuse lexicon of a particular social group. (In fact, it’s really more accurate to describe Nadsat as an argot, a secret language in its own right.)
I reckon that this cliquey-speakey kind of slang serves two primary functions:
1 as a weapon of social exclusion, irreverently marking out generational difference
2 as a defence mechanism, a way of protecting the group’s activities, illicit or otherwise, from the unwanted attention of authority figures
In my view, slang also satisfies a deep human need to play with, twist, stretch and remould language to express the way you see the world. And this is where I start to feel a bit uncomfortable about my love for Nadsat precisely because of the despicable, krovvy-soaked violence that it so often describes. Is Nadsat intrinsically bad? Nah, of course not. No language is intrinsically bad, or good. But if you use Nadsat, aren’t you really identifying yourself with something that is pretty dark and sinister…?
Smotting forward to viddying your messels on this and any other slangy matters.Email this Post