Chortling Chinchillas and Jabberwocks

So I was having a conversation with a friend about the word chortle, I really love this word… I would like to chortle, I think I might from time to time, but generally speaking it always seemed to me something that plump people do, a deep belly chuckle that involves a lot of happy stomach jiggling. Or babies who are always round and, well, rather fat, and do a good bit of chortling when not drooling or crying. Being tall and thin, it seemed rather beyond my abilities…though I swear I never giggle.

I was happy to find that apart from people with large bellies, chortling is also a technical term used to describe some of the communication between chinchillas. Just look at this:

I don’t know the genius who is responsible for this sign, nor quite how to explain the presence of chinchillas at San Francisco’s aquarium on the bay, but was very happy about both.

Still, the word chortle seemed to require a bit more investigation. So investigate I did. And was astounded and amazed to find that the word was actually invented by Lewis Carroll in the immortal poem Jabberwocky (at least, that’s what wiktionary says).

Now I have been in love with this poem ever since I first read it at a very tender age, it is perhaps my favourite poem of all time, though my love for it is slightly different then my love for the poetry of Akhmatova, Neruda, Heaney, and even Poe. And it’s a bit…well no, I am immensely excited and happy and well nigh overjoyed in the amazement to find it was first coined there in 1871

‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ He chortled in his joy.

I never knew. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says it can also mean to sing or chant exultantly, but I think they’re utterly wrong, and obviously not as in tune with the great Carrollian mind as I am…how could they say such a thing after writing that the etymology of the word is “probably a blend of chuckle and snort?”

But I think this much discussion calls for the complete poem

‘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.

And I am newly reminded about the importance of using frabjous much more regularly. Of whiffling and burbling and the sound of snicker-snack. I do often use galumph, having once had a cat who used that as his regular mode of transport. And I know this is an out and out nonsense poem that has since had reams of very learned sillyness written about it, but ’twas magical the world it created for me as a kid. And the doors it opened in language. And the frumious bandersnatch remains one of my favourite creatures ever…I’m still hoping to meet one, though not in a dark alley.

And it only adds to the happiness of chortling chinchillas.

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