Sarah indescribable violence. By the end of

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Sarah Williams


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December 2017

The Language of Nadsat  

            In A Clockwork Orange language is a very important theme. The language
mostly used by the important characters in the novel is nadsat. Nadsat is a
slang language used by the teens in the novel. Nadsat is English with borrowed
words from the Russian Language, the word is actually a Russian suffix for
“teen”. Adults don’t understand this language in the novel. The significance of
nadsat 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 find
ourselves understanding the slang used, which points to subtle ways language
can work on us.

            Nadsat is used thoroughly throughout
the novel, but, is mostly used by the protagonist; Alex. Anthony Burgess has
chosen the vocabulary of two-hundred or so words which he used to create nadsat
very carefully, one of the more interesting choices being the use of very abstract
nouns. The old “in-out in-out” is a slang word used to describe sex. This was
used 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 crimes
committed 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 Bar
was a significant spot for the mai characters, as they would often get served
drugs here. These terms all have to do with the violence, and crimes committed
throughout the book. Although, any abstract concepts that would have to do with
knowledge, philosophy or love are absent from the nadsat dictionary. Dr. Brodsky sort of explains this
slang; nadsat, trying to get underneath Alex’s skin, but it is a very broad
explanation and doesn’t explain the full idea.

grahzny sodding veshches that come out of my gulliver and my plott,” I
said, “that’s what it is.” “Quaint,” said Dr. Brodsky,
like smiling, “the dialect of the tribe. Do you know anything of its
provenance, Branom?” “Odd bits of old rhyming slang,” said
Dr. Branom, who did not look quite so much like a friend any more. “A bit
of gipsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda. Subliminal
penetration.” (Evans 406).

may not explain to Branom what nadsat really consists of, but they tried to
understand, they wanted to know why it was used. Another way to describe nadsat
and how it is made up would be “In addition to the Russian influence, Nadsat
derives from a number of other sources: Romany; Cockney rhyming slang; the
language of the criminal underworld; the English of Shakespeare and the
Elizabethans; 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’s
nadsat. This language could be viewed as a ‘negative reinforcer’ for a reader
to stop reading as the book goes on as well. Although, most want to figure out
the language, so they may keep reading.

            Burgess wanted to use this language
for the significant purpose of covering up the violence. He wanted this book to
be all about the language, and how one must understand nadsat to be able to
understand the book. Another reason would be how he wanted to do the job of brainwashing
the reader.

“As the book was supposed to be
about brainwashing, it was appropriate that the text itself should be a
brainwashing device. The reader would be brainwashed into learning minimal
Russian. The novel was to be an exercise in linguistic programming, with the exoticisms
gradually clarified by context: I would resist to the limit any publisher’s
demand that a glossary be provided.” (You’ve Had Your Time 38).

This makes a lot of sense as to why
the words were so confusing. This style of writing really keeps the readers
intrigued into what they’re reading. In the novel, Alex enjoys committing
horrible acts of violence upon innocent people, which would usually make it
difficult for us as readers to empathize with him. Although, the use of the
fictional language protects us from the full horror of his violence by creating
a buffer between the actual events and what the reader comprehends. This
happens because many of the words no longer have the same connotations as they
do in regular English. Burgess claimed in his book You’ve Had Your Time that “this strange new lingo would act
like a kind of mist, half hiding the mayhem and protecting the reader from his
own baser instincts.” (Burgess
2). This really explains that the theory of him covering up the violent acts
really is true.

            There are many important quotes from
the book using nadsat, these quotes appear throughout the novel showing great
importance. 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 plan
ahead for a night of burglary, beatings, and other hateful crimes. Throughout
part one, Alex is confronted with a choice between being good and being
evil. Although, in part two when he was convicted of murder his options
are obviously very restricted. He does not have the choice between good or evil
anymore. When this quote pops up again in part three he only has one option put
into his lap, this being to go through the new program that he learns to be
very sickening, literally. Later on, after his attempted suicide, Alex regains
his option to be evil because he no longer feels sick from the conditioning he
went through. Another important phrase from the book that keeps popping up
significantly 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 to
be made into a good boy, 6655321. Never again will you have the desire to
commit acts of violence or to offend in any way whatsoever against the State’s
Peace. I hope you take all that in. I hope you are absolutely clear in your own
mind about that.”” (Burgess 106). This number was used to show that he is just a
test subject. In this quote, the chaplain explains to him that his choice to be
good or evil will be extinguished completely and he will know nothing but how
to be a good boy. You can clearly tell that the chaplain uses a normal language
rather 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 in

            In the beginning of A Clockwork Orange the language used is
confusing, difficult to understand, and may even cause discomfort. This causes
confusion on what the book really is about. The understanding of the hostility
of the novel is difficult to pick up on. Later into the novel, the reader
starts to understand the language; nadsat. This understanding gives the reader
the opportunity to connect with Alex, the protagonist. As the readers
understand the language Alex is using as he narrates the novel, the connection
makes it easier to empathize what Alex is doing. Instead of looking at Alex as
a criminal, the readers may see him as a victim of the political and government
run system, as they abandon the idea of free will. Although Alex is such a
flawed character, considering he rapes, beats, and steals, the violence seems
less intense. The phrase “o my brothers” creates a personal bond. Nadsat seems
as though it’s a childish and immature language until the reader catches on to
what is actually being talked about. Fr example, this quote from A Clockwork Orange may seem like a

“They had no license for selling
liquor, but there was no law yet against prodding some of the new veshches
which they used to put in the old moloko, so you could peet it with vellocet or
synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches which would give you a nice
quiet horrors how fteen minutes admiring Bog And All His Holy Angels and Saints
in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg. Or you could peet
milk with knives in it, as we used to say, and this would sharpen you up and
make you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one, and this is what we were
peeting this evening I’m starting off the story with.” (Burgess 3).

As the
reader, one may look on this third page reading this, without even realizing
that what’s being talked about is drugs. For in the beginning, it is crazy to
assume that one may know this type of slang. Although, by page 49, the reader
should know what is violence and what is not.

“‘She’s been nastily knocked but
she’s breathing,’ and there was a loud mewing all the time. ‘A real pleasure
this is,’ I heard another millicent golos say as I was tolchocked very rough
and 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 with
some ringy rooker or other full on the rot.” (Burgess 49).

quote is from when Alex was set up by his “droogs”. There was plenty of
violence in this part, as a reader it’s not an easy sight to picture young kids
doing all of this. Alex’s brutality is not censored at all, none of the teens
violence is. The way the reader views Alex and the language of nadsat is
completely different from the end. The idea of language can really change how
one may think. Nadsat kept the readers intrigued, without disgusting the
readers by the violence, and helping to keep the idea to be empathetic for

            The language is mostly used by the
important characters, along with the protagonist in the novel is nadsat. Adults
don’t understand this language in the novel, it is made for that reason. The
significance of nadsat 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 find ourselves understanding the slang used, which points to subtle
ways language can work on us. In A
Clockwork Orange language is a very important theme that is significant to
the novel.




























Works Cited

Anthony. A clockwork orange. Penguin, 1972.

Anthony. You’ve Had Your Time: Being the Second Part of the Confessions
of Anthony   Burgess. Grove Press,

Martin, and Bruce Johnson. Dark Side of the Tune: Popular Music and
Violence.             Ashgate
Publishing Company, 2009.

Robert O. “Nadsat: The Argot and Its Implications in Anthony Burgess’ ‘A
Clockwork       Orange.'” Journal of
Modern Literature, vol. 1, no. 3, 1971, pp. 406–410. JSTOR,      JSTOR.



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