Sarah WilliamsJamesScherfWRI 10101December 2017The Language of Nadsat In A Clockwork Orange language is a very important theme.
The languagemostly used by the important characters in the novel is nadsat. Nadsat is aslang language used by the teens in the novel. Nadsat is English with borrowedwords from the Russian Language, the word is actually a Russian suffix for”teen”. Adults don’t understand this language in the novel. The significance ofnadsat is that it is used by Anthony Burgess to sort of brainwash the reader,to cover up the indescribable violence. By the end of the novel we findourselves understanding the slang used, which points to subtle ways languagecan work on us. Nadsat is used thoroughly throughoutthe novel, but, is mostly used by the protagonist; Alex.
Anthony Burgess haschosen the vocabulary of two-hundred or so words which he used to create nadsatvery carefully, one of the more interesting choices being the use of very abstractnouns. The old “in-out in-out” is a slang word used to describe sex. This wasused when the “droogs” (Alex and his friends) would talk about rape. The word”drat” meaning fighting, was a popular term when talking about the violent crimescommitted on innocent people, just like the old man carrying library books.Some others that were used are “kroovy” meaning blood, “cutter” for money, or “knives” for drugs. The Korova Milk Barwas a significant spot for the mai characters, as they would often get serveddrugs here. These terms all have to do with the violence, and crimes committedthroughout the book.
Although, any abstract concepts that would have to do withknowledge, philosophy or love are absent from the nadsat dictionary. Dr. Brodsky sort of explains thisslang; nadsat, trying to get underneath Alex’s skin, but it is a very broadexplanation and doesn’t explain the full idea. “Thesegrahzny sodding veshches that come out of my gulliver and my plott,” Isaid, “that’s what it is.
” “Quaint,” said Dr. Brodsky,like smiling, “the dialect of the tribe. Do you know anything of itsprovenance, Branom?” “Odd bits of old rhyming slang,” saidDr.
Branom, who did not look quite so much like a friend any more. “A bitof gipsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav.
Propaganda. Subliminalpenetration.” (Evans 406).Brodskymay not explain to Branom what nadsat really consists of, but they tried tounderstand, they wanted to know why it was used. Another way to describe nadsatand how it is made up would be “In addition to the Russian influence, Nadsatderives from a number of other sources: Romany; Cockney rhyming slang; thelanguage of the criminal underworld; the English of Shakespeare and theElizabethans; armed forces slang; and the Malay language familiar to Burgess.”(Cloonan).
Some words may use the Cockney rhyming or Romany more than others,but all together throughout the book these styles are used to make up Burgess’snadsat. This language could be viewed as a ‘negative reinforcer’ for a readerto stop reading as the book goes on as well. Although, most want to figure outthe language, so they may keep reading. Burgess wanted to use this languagefor the significant purpose of covering up the violence. He wanted this book tobe all about the language, and how one must understand nadsat to be able tounderstand the book. Another reason would be how he wanted to do the job of brainwashingthe reader. “As the book was supposed to beabout brainwashing, it was appropriate that the text itself should be abrainwashing device. The reader would be brainwashed into learning minimalRussian.
The novel was to be an exercise in linguistic programming, with the exoticismsgradually clarified by context: I would resist to the limit any publisher’sdemand that a glossary be provided.” (You’ve Had Your Time 38). This makes a lot of sense as to whythe words were so confusing. This style of writing really keeps the readersintrigued into what they’re reading.
In the novel, Alex enjoys committinghorrible acts of violence upon innocent people, which would usually make itdifficult for us as readers to empathize with him. Although, the use of thefictional language protects us from the full horror of his violence by creatinga buffer between the actual events and what the reader comprehends. Thishappens because many of the words no longer have the same connotations as theydo in regular English. Burgess claimed in his book You’ve Had Your Time that “this strange new lingo would actlike a kind of mist, half hiding the mayhem and protecting the reader from hisown baser instincts.” (Burgess2).
This really explains that the theory of him covering up the violent actsreally is true. There are many important quotes fromthe book using nadsat, these quotes appear throughout the novel showing greatimportance. One example would be “What’s it going to be then, eh?” (Burgess 5).
Alex first asks this question to himself and his friends, as they planahead for a night of burglary, beatings, and other hateful crimes. Throughoutpart one, Alex is confronted with a choice between being good and beingevil. Although, in part two when he was convicted of murder his optionsare obviously very restricted. He does not have the choice between good or evilanymore. When this quote pops up again in part three he only has one option putinto his lap, this being to go through the new program that he learns to bevery sickening, literally.
Later on, after his attempted suicide, Alex regainshis option to be evil because he no longer feels sick from the conditioning hewent through. Another important phrase from the book that keeps popping upsignificantly in part two is Alex’s serial number that is used in the program.””Very hard ethical questions are involved,” he went on. “You are tobe made into a good boy, 6655321. Never again will you have the desire tocommit acts of violence or to offend in any way whatsoever against the State’sPeace. I hope you take all that in. I hope you are absolutely clear in your ownmind about that.
“” (Burgess 106). This number was used to show that he is just atest subject. In this quote, the chaplain explains to him that his choice to begood or evil will be extinguished completely and he will know nothing but howto be a good boy.
You can clearly tell that the chaplain uses a normal languagerather than nadsat. It is very easy to understand what he is trying to say.Alex knows how to use this language, he just prefers to use his own words innadsat.
In the beginning of A Clockwork Orange the language used isconfusing, difficult to understand, and may even cause discomfort. This causesconfusion on what the book really is about. The understanding of the hostilityof the novel is difficult to pick up on. Later into the novel, the readerstarts to understand the language; nadsat.
This understanding gives the readerthe opportunity to connect with Alex, the protagonist. As the readersunderstand the language Alex is using as he narrates the novel, the connectionmakes it easier to empathize what Alex is doing. Instead of looking at Alex asa criminal, the readers may see him as a victim of the political and governmentrun system, as they abandon the idea of free will. Although Alex is such aflawed character, considering he rapes, beats, and steals, the violence seemsless intense. The phrase “o my brothers” creates a personal bond. Nadsat seemsas though it’s a childish and immature language until the reader catches on towhat is actually being talked about. Fr example, this quote from A Clockwork Orange may seem like ariddle.
“They had no license for sellingliquor, but there was no law yet against prodding some of the new veshcheswhich they used to put in the old moloko, so you could peet it with vellocet orsynthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches which would give you a nicequiet horrors how fteen minutes admiring Bog And All His Holy Angels and Saintsin your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg. Or you could peetmilk with knives in it, as we used to say, and this would sharpen you up andmake you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one, and this is what we werepeeting this evening I’m starting off the story with.” (Burgess 3). As thereader, one may look on this third page reading this, without even realizingthat what’s being talked about is drugs. For in the beginning, it is crazy toassume that one may know this type of slang. Although, by page 49, the readershould know what is violence and what is not.
“‘She’s been nastily knocked butshe’s breathing,’ and there was a loud mewing all the time. ‘A real pleasurethis is,’ I heard another millicent golos say as I was tolchocked very roughand skorry into the auto. ‘Little Alex all to our own selves.’ I creeched out:’I’m blind, Bog bust and bleed you, you grahzny bastards.’ ‘Language,language,’ like smecked a golos, and then I got a like backhand tolchock withsome ringy rooker or other full on the rot.” (Burgess 49).Thisquote is from when Alex was set up by his “droogs”.
There was plenty ofviolence in this part, as a reader it’s not an easy sight to picture young kidsdoing all of this. Alex’s brutality is not censored at all, none of the teensviolence is. The way the reader views Alex and the language of nadsat iscompletely different from the end. The idea of language can really change howone may think. Nadsat kept the readers intrigued, without disgusting thereaders by the violence, and helping to keep the idea to be empathetic forAlex. The language is mostly used by theimportant characters, along with the protagonist in the novel is nadsat. Adultsdon’t understand this language in the novel, it is made for that reason.
Thesignificance of nadsat is that it is used by Anthony Burgess to sort ofbrainwash the reader, to cover up the indescribable violence. By the end of thenovel we find ourselves understanding the slang used, which points to subtleways language can work on us. In AClockwork Orange language is a very important theme that is significant tothe novel. Works CitedBurgess,Anthony. A clockwork orange. Penguin, 1972.Burgess,Anthony.
You’ve Had Your Time: Being the Second Part of the Confessionsof Anthony Burgess. Grove Press,1991.Cloonan,Martin, and Bruce Johnson. Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music andViolence. AshgatePublishing Company, 2009.
Evans,Robert O. “Nadsat: The Argot and Its Implications in Anthony Burgess’ ‘AClockwork Orange.'” Journal ofModern Literature, vol. 1, no. 3, 1971, pp.
406–410. JSTOR, JSTOR.