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7 Comments

  • Brilliant post Sarah, so intriguing that I find myself wanting to comment even though I found the film so disturbing as to be almost unwatchable, and much of your post is completely unintelligible! Strange isn’t it, how slang makes you feel like you’re on the outside of something, excluded from it, and that whatever you’ve been excluded from is somehow cool and desirable. As you say, that opening scene is all about the clique, the homies, the brotherhood – and the language reflects that. There are two interesting things here I suppose (apart from the langauge itself). First the that fact that slang is used in the ways that you describe to create a language of tribe and belonging, often by those to whom tribe is crucially important: the disenfranchised and the ghettoised (and here I mean not just those excluded by race and geography but also by age – the whole phenomenon of teen slang). Second, the fact that this exclusivity and promise of belonging draws us in, appeals to us, makes us want to join to the group that creates and uses this distinct form of language. Perhaps that’s one of the elements of genius that make The Clockwork Orange so powerful: the fact that it implicates and entices even as it repulses and horrifies. And it does that in no small part through its strange take on the English language.

  • Dear Sarah,

    I am also a huge fan of ‘Clockwork Orange’. I use one of the early passages (when they are sitting in the Milk Bar, clocking the devotchkas in their gullivers) as an example of how important it is to learn vocabulary in context. Most people reading that paragraph can work out what the words mean without having to look them up. What’s fun is then going back at the end of the lesson and seeing if they remember them. They nearly always can. Why can’t students do that with more currently useful vocabulary? The power of the story element I guess, and the fact that Burgess made the words so memorable.
    Although Burgess’s prediction of ultra violence seems scarily accurate I’m not sure if his conclusion (violence is a phase young men go through and when they get older they want to get married and have babies) was quite right. Most of my girlfriends (that is ‘friends who are girls’) complain bitterly about the lack of men willing to have babies (as opposed to practice making them) with them.
    James

  • O my brothers! Thanks for the comments. So much to say here…

    @Ian
    I know what you mean about the film being unwatchable. The first time I saw it, I was thoroughly disgusted by it. The ultra-violent scenes made me feel queasy. The second and third time, I was still disturbed, but realised what a brilliantly made, intelligent, thought-provoking film it was. As for the slang being unintelligible, I’m not sure that’s the case. As James comments, it’s not impossible to work it out from the context, the positioning of the words, their inflections and how they collocate. Rassoodock could mean anything I suppose, but the phrase ‘make up my rassoodock’ in the context given gives you a fairly good clue that it probably means ‘make up my mind’. Even if you are unclear on what precisely the slang is referring to, you can see whether it’s a verb, a noun or an adjective. I agree that this kind of obtuse slang can be alienating and annoying and off-putting, but I wouldn’t say it’s unintelligible. It’s decodable. I seem to remember reading somewhere that some linguisto-sophistos conducted some kind of vocabulary comprehension test on first-time readers of the novel. They scored quite highly, I think, demonstrating that context really aids understanding of language. For non-native speakers of English, admittedly, it’s much more difficult to understand really well-developed slang. I suppose you need a pretty good knowledge of Bog Standard English as a foundation on which to base your understanding of non-standard varieties.

    As regards the appeal of slang and how it draws you in, the flip side surely is that the more popular and mainstream it becomes, the less cool it is. And it’s got to be cliquey to be cool. The fantastic thing about the Internet, linguistically speaking, is that if you’ve got a linguistic fetish, and want to be part of some kooky linguistic community it’s easy-peasy to join a group of like-minded, um… enthusiasts. See, for example, the Translate Facebook into Nadsat campaign and all the other Nadsat fan sites and groups.

    @James
    Great that you’re using the book in your classes! Yeah, I was dissatisfied with the novel’s ending too, (don’t read on if you don’t want to know the ending) not least because the little bugger shows not a shred of remorse. His intention to move on with his life, find a devotchka, settle down and have a son who may well grow up to be an ultra-violent malchick, is just depressing. As for men and babies, I know plenty of chellovecks who want kids and plenty of devotchkas who do not!

    Hmmm… just wondering, are there any other slangy argots out there… Loads probably. I quite fancy taking up Polari, just for fun.

    Oh, check this Nadsat quiz out by the way: http://www.funtrivia.com/flashquiz/index.cfm?qid=165930

  • Thanks for the mention of the Translate Facebook into Nadsat Campaign! Facebook members: preglassit your droogies to the group and we will have Facebook translated into our beloved Nadsat.

  • I read the book in about 1974 when I was in 2nd form. I discovered that I could classify unappealing fellow pupils as cally vonny bratchnies. And I have never forgotten a lot of the words. I can’t forget a certain flip horrorshow mesto for example. Thanks for this piece.