A Clockwork Orange


A Clockwork Orange is a 1962 dystopian novella by Anthony Burgess. The novel contains an experiment in language; Burgess creates teenage slang of the not-too-distant future called Nadsat. In a prefatory note to ‘A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music,’ Burgess wrote that the title was a metaphor for ‘…an organic entity, full of juice and sweetness and agreeable odor, being turned into an automaton.’ and the ‘title would be appropriate for a story about the application of Pavlovian or mechanical laws to an organism which, like a fruit, was capable of color and sweetness.’

The title alludes to the protagonist’s positively conditioned responses to feelings of evil which prevent the exercise of his free will. To reverse this conditioning, he is subjected to a technique in which his emotional responses to violence are systematically paired with a negative stimulation in the form of nausea caused by an emetic medicine administered just before the presentation of films depicting violent, and ‘ultra-violent’ situations.

The book, narrated by Alex, contains many words in a slang argot which Burgess invented for the book, called Nadsat. It is a mix of modified Slavic words, rhyming slang, derived Russian (like ‘baboochka’), and words invented by Burgess himself. For instance, these terms have the following meanings in Nadsat- ‘droog’ means ‘friend’ ; ‘korova’ means ‘cow’; ‘risp’ is a shirt; ‘golova’ (gulliver) means ‘head’; ‘malchick’ or ‘malchickiwick’ means ‘boy’; ‘soomka’ means ‘sack’ or ‘bag’; ‘Bog’ means ‘God’; ‘khorosho’ (horrorshow) means ‘good’, ‘prestoopnick’ means ‘criminal’; ‘rooka’ (rooker) is ‘hand’, ‘cal’ is ‘crap’, ‘veck’ (‘chelloveck’) is ‘man’ or ‘guy’; ‘litso’ is ‘face’; ‘malenky’ is ‘little’; and so on.

One of Alex’s doctors explains the language to a colleague as ‘Odd bits of old rhyming slang; a bit of gypsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav propaganda. Subliminal penetration.’ Some words are not derived from anything, but merely easy to guess, e.g. ‘in-out, in-out’ or ‘the old in-out’ means sexual intercourse. ‘Cutter’, however, means money, because ‘cutter’ rhymes with ‘bread-and-butter’; this is rhyming slang, which is intended to be impenetrable to outsiders (especially eavesdropping policemen).

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