Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Frumious Bandersnatch!


For a couple of semesters in college I worked at the on-campus student coffee shop, The Bandersnatch, named after the creature in Lewis Carroll's famous nonsensical poem, Jabberwocky. When you work inside a Lewis Carroll nonsense poem, you start to take nonsense seriously. While I was toasting bagels and brewing coffee, I thought about it enough to create my own incomplete, nonsense hierarchy. (The lists here reflect my myopia with modern pop culture.)

1. Understandable Nonsense. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously," is a sentence composed by the MIT Professor of Linguistics, Noam Chomsky, and the best example I can think of as nonsense where the words are all understandable but whose meaning is nonsensical. This category is not a lot of fun, mostly because it seems to be the playground for academics to make linguistic arguments. 


2. Mixed-Up Nonsense. Second degree of nonsense would be a mix of the understandable and made up. Carroll's 1855 Jabborwocky is what I think of -- writing that is grammatically correct and partially understandable but filled with lot's of made-up, fun words. 
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe. 
I don't know what a slithy tove is but the sound of the words along send me a direction I can conjure up an image of something amphibian-like. 
Carroll's contemporary, Edward Lear, wrote a whole book of nonsense including poems, short stories, songs, drawings, alphabets, and even botanical drawings. 
Over a century later, this was fertile ground for writers of pop-songs.
The Chrystals had a Top Ten Billboard it with The Da Doo Ron Ron 
    I knew what he was doing when he caught my eye
    Da do ron-ron-ron, da do ron-ron
    He looked so quiet but my oh my
    Da do ron-ron-ron, da do ron-ron

And the pop music variations go on and on. The De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da by The Police gets a special mention with Sting being self-aware enough to expressly call out the meaninglessness of the words.
    De do do do, de da da da
    Is all I want to say to you
    De do do do, de da da da
    They're meaningless and all that's true
Sting had been playing with mixed non-sense starting as early as their first album, Outlandos d'Amor with the track Masako Tango, most of which are nonsense words.
Key wo wa di com la day wa da
Co wa da zu ma pu wa all day
See po wa ta na po ba ba
Zoe ka mo wa I've been sleepin' all day

John Lennon filled some of the Beatles most memorable songs with Mixed-Up Nonsense like I am the Walrus
    I am the egg man
    They are the egg men
    I am the walrus
    Goo goo g'joob

3. Total Nonsense. Here's where there are no recognizable words and, while it might feel grammatically coreect, it's not like a foreign language where you can find a translation because there are no translations. The best example I can think of is the Dada poet, Hugo Ball, who in 1916 wrote a poem, Karawane, consisting of nonsensical words. Some commentators called it a "sound poem."  Here's the opening verse
    Gadji beri bimba clandridi
    Lauli lonni cadori gadjam
    A bim beri glassala glandride
    E glassala tuffm I zimbra 

The Talking Healds revived the poem in their 1979 song I Zimbra, from their album Fear of Music. Ball received a writing credit for the song on the track listing. If you want to say you've seen everything on the internet, you can watch a video of Marie Osmond reciting Karawane.
John Lennon added his own pure nonsense to the Abbey Road song, Sun King with the lryics:
    Quando para mucho mi amore de felice corazón
    Mundo paparazzi mi amore chicka ferdy parasol
    Cuesto obrigado tanta mucho que canite carousel

The lyrics sound like a romance language just out of reach but were in fact total nonsense.

There's a lot more nonsense out there for another day but for now I've got to Gimble in the wabe.

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