Tag Archives: Jabberwocky

In Other Words – Make Every Word Count!

I’ve been out of WordPress-land for the past week or so; I’ve been focused on editing and didn’t want to blog until I had something worth writing about.  I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I’ve been working on & thinking about:

One golden rule in writing is to make every word count; along that yellow brick road are all kinds of signposts and potholes.  Signposts are things like “make verbs do the actions”, while potholes are “watch out for unnecessary words” – either for the sake of padding word count (e.g. for a short story or report that needs to reach a certain word count), or words that slip in needlessly.  Examples of unnecessary words are -ly adverbs (if we use the best verb, the adverb will be superfluous), strings of adjectives, really, very, and there is/are/were/was.  Recently I’ve been scanning my current manuscript for the kinds of words that slip in easily while writing in a flow; I have a list of things that I watch out for personally, and one item is “there”.  While I try to catch them as I write, sometimes I will intentionally use them as a “place-marker” – knowing that I’ll come searching for them later, find it, and re-write the sentence or scene with a fresher eye than I had at the time I originally wrote it.  That’s just me – I know myself, that I won’t leave things like that long.  If you’re not sure you’ll catch those sentences you want to improve on later, then mark them with a different coloured text, or an e-post-it, or something that will jump out at you.

Mark Twain - Very, Damn

Here are a few examples of sentences (from my current manuscript) with “there” before and after editing:

…there was a crisp off-shore wind… —> …a crisp off-shore wind blew…

…there was no recollection in his eyes… —> …no recollection flickered in his eyes…

…there was a twinkle of amusement in his eyes… —> …amusement twinkled in his eyes…

…there was no sign of the HMS Norwich… —> …the HMS Norwich was nowhere to be seen…

…there would be dire consequences… —> …dire consequences would follow…

…there was a smirk on the captain’s face… —> …a smirk spread across the captain’s face…

Tightening up the wording makes the sentence less clunky and more precise.  Making every word count is not about reducing word count, although that will be a natural consequence sometimes; at other times, by changing the sentence to mean more precisely what you want to convey, it may result in the word count actually increasing.  Just make sure that the words you use carry their weight.  Waffling, rambling & repetition will not win us any brownie points; I could easily go into detail about the ropes of a ship of sail, but it would probably bore most readers to death!  Sometimes “less is more”; it’s enough to say “ropes”.  If I describe a surgeon’s table and list the instruments he’s about to use, it may be TMI (“too much information”) if using the word “instruments” is enough; if I want something more specific, then I could name a tool at a particular moment in the scene.  Though I like the (audio) book “The Host”, by Stephenie Meyer, my one gripe with it is what I call the “roll call” scenes – where the characters present are listed, as if in a roll call.  It’s TMI – it would be enough to say something like, “those I counted as allies were with me”.

Other times, a list of words may become a linguistic collage, painting a picture in the reader’s mind of a character, or a place, or a mood.  A classic example of this is Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky; most of the words are nonsensical, non-existent words, but they nevertheless paint a clear image in the reader’s mind.

It’s why writing is never an exact science, and why, as a writer, I can always learn something, always hone my skills.  If I ever become satisfied with my own level of writing, to me that’s a warning sign that I’m missing a significant moment of improvement.  That should never stop someone from publishing – from letting their baby grow up and go out into the world to make other friends – but in the writing and editing process, be prepared to let go of pet scenes, or even some characters, in favour of an improved manuscript.  Making every word count requires that we learn to recognise what counts, and what doesn’t.  So keep writing, and keep honing your skills!

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The Jabberwocky and the Totemügerli

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard of Alice in Wonderland; at the least your curiosity might have been piqued enough to read it after seeing The Matrix, or be mistaken in thinking that you don’t need to read the book if you saw Tim Burton’s film with Johnnie Depp.  The sequel to Lewis Carroll’s most famous work (mentioned above), called “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There“, written in 1871, contains the famous nonsensical poem called the Jabberwocky, which I present here:

“Jabberwocky”

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought—

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Many of the nonsensical words are what Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) coined Jabberwockyas “portmanteau words” meaning the combination of both sound and meaning of two words into one; e.g. frumious being “fuming” and “furious”.  Some of the words have since made it into the English language, such as galumph or chortle, while some were words he revived, such as gyre and beamish.  And personally I think some of his words deserve wider use, such as brilling, slithy, snicker-snack and Bandersnatch!  Click on the photo to the right to hear the poem read.

 

Now… “what is the Totemügerli,” I hear you ask?  It is the Swiss-German version – not a translation, but an original story by Franz Hohler, a Swiss cabaret performer; Bernese German, to be more precise.  Bern is the political capital of Switzerland, and historically has one of the richest, most colourful dialects of all the Swiss German dialects; I am fluent in the Zürich dialect, and can understand all the other Swiss-German dialects, including Walliserdïïtsch, which is the oldest of all Swiss dialects; and I can guarantee you that the Totemügerli story is 90% nonsense, and yet tells a clear tale!  For those of you interested in the text, here it is:

Ds Totemügerli

von Franz Hohler

Gäuit, wemer da grad eso schön binanger sitze, hani däicht, chönntech

vilicht es bärndütsches Gschichtli erzelle. Es isch zwar es bsungers

uganteligs Gschichtli, wo aber no gar nid eso lang im Mittlere

Schattegibeleggtäli passiert isch:

Der Schöppelimunggi u der Houderebäseler si einischt schpät am Abe,

wo scho der Schibützu durs Gochlimoos pfoderet het, über s Batzmättere

Heigisch im Erpfetli zueglüffe u hei nang na gschtigelet u gschigöggelet,

das me z Gotts Bäri hätt chönne meine, si sige nanger scheich.

«Na ei so schlöözige Blotzbänggu am Fläre, u i verminggle der s Bätzi,

dass d Oschterpföteler ghörsch zawanggle!»

«Drby wärsch froh, hättsch en einzige nuesige Schiggeler uf em Lugipfupf!»

U so isch das hin u härgange wie nes Färegschäderli amene Milchgröözi,

da seit plötzlech Houderebäseler zu Schöppelimunggi:

«Schtill! Was ziberlet dert näbem Tobelöhli z grachtige n uuf u aab?»

Schöppelimunggi het gschläfzet wie ne Gitzeler u hets du o gseh. Es

Totemügerli! U nid numen eis, nei, zwöi, drü, vier, füüf, es ganzes

Schoossinjong voll si da desumegschläberlet u hei zäng pinggerlet u

globofzgerlet u gschanghangizigerlifisionööggelet, das es eim richtig agschnäggelet het.

Schöppelimunggi u Houderebäseler hei nang nume zuegmutzet u hei ganz

hingerbyggelig wöllen abschöberle. Aber chuum hei si der Awang ytröölet,

gröözet es Totemügerli:

«Heee, dir zweee!»

U denen isch i d Chnöde glöötet wie bschüttigs Chrüzimääl dure Chätschäbertrog.

Düpfelig u gnütelig si si blybe schtah wie zwöi gripseti Mischtschwibeli,

u scho isch das Totemügerli was tschigerlisch was

pfigerlisch binene zueche gsi. Äs het se zersch es Rüngli chyblig u

gschiferlig aagnöttelet u het se de möögglige gfraget:

«Chöit dir is hälfe, ds Blindeli der Schtotzgrotzen ueche z graagge?»

Wo der Schöppelimunggi das Wort «Blindeli» ghört het, het em fasch

wölle ds Härzgätterli zum Hosegschingg uspföderle,

aber der Houderebäseler het em zueggaschplet:

«Du weisch doch, das men imene Totemügerli nid darf nei säge!»

U du si si halt mitgschnarpflet.

«Sooo, dir zweee!» het ds Totemügerli gseit, wo si zum Blindeli cho si,

u die angere Totemügerli si ganz rüeiig daaggalzlet u hei numen ugschynig ychegschwärzelet.

Da hei die beide gwüsst, was es Scheieli Gschlychets ds Gloubige

choschtet u hei das Blindeli aagroupet, der eint am schörpfu, der anger a de Gängertalpli.

Uuuh, isch das e botterepfloorigi Schtrüpfete gsi!

Die zwee hei gschwouderet u ghetzpacheret, das si z näbis meh gwüsst hei,

wo se der Gürchu zwurglet.

Daa, z eis Dapf, wo si scho halber der Schtotzgrotzen

uecheghaschpaaperet si, faht sech das Blindeli afah ziirgge u bäärgglet mit

schychem Schtimmli:

«Ooh, wie buuchet mi der Glutz!»

Jetz hets aber im Schöppelimunggi böös im Schyssächerli gguugget.

Är het das Blindeli la glootsche u isch der Schtotzgrotz abdotzeret,

wie wenn em der Hurligwaagg mit em Flarzyse der Schtirps vermöcklet hätt.

«Häb dure, Münggu!» het em der Houderebäseler na naagräätschet;

u de het er nüt meh gwüsst.

Am angere Morge het ne ds Schtötzgrötzeler Eisi gfunge, chäfu u tunggig

wien en Öiu, u es isch meh weder e Monet gange,

bis er wider het chönne s Gräppli im Hotschmägeli bleike.

Totemügerli u Blindeli het er keis meh gseh sis Läbe lang, aber o der

Schöppelimunggi isch vo da a verschwunde gsi.

S git Lüt, wo säge, dass sider am Schtotzgrotzen es Totemügerli meh desumeschirggelet.

If you’d like to hear it read out by Franz Hohler himself, in a cabaret show recorded during the ’80s, just click on the image below.

 

Totemürgeli, by Willy Vogelsang

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