Nadsat

droog

Nadsat is an argot (secret language) used by the teenagers in Anthony Burgess’s novel ‘A Clockwork Orange. ‘In addition to being a novelist, Burgess was also a linguist and he used this background to depict his characters as speaking a form of Russian-influenced English. The name itself comes from the Russian suffix equivalent of -‘teen.’

Nadsat is a mode of speech used by the nadsat, members of the teen subculture in the novel. The anti-hero and narrator of the book, Alex, uses it in first-person style to relate the story to the reader. He also uses it to communicate with other characters in the novel, such as his droogs, parents, victims, and any authority-figures with whom he comes in contact. As with many speakers of non-standard varieties of English, Alex is capable of speaking standard English when he wants to. It is not a written language: the sense that readers get is of a transcription of vernacular speech.

Nadsat is English with some borrowed words from Russian. It also contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang and the King James Bible, the German language, some words of unclear origin, and some that Burgess invented. ‘Droog’ is Russian ‘close friend’. Some of the words are also almost childish English such as eggiweg (‘egg’) and appy polly loggy (‘apology’), as well as regular English slang ‘sod’ and ‘snuff it.’ The word ‘like’ and the expression ‘the old’ are often inserted arbitrarily into phrases.

At least one translation of Burgess’ book into Russian solved the problem of how to illustrate the Nadsat words—by using transliterated, slang English words in places where Burgess used Russian ones. However, this solution was imperfect as it lacked the original abstractness. Borrowed English words with Russian inflection were widely used in Russian slang, especially among Russian hippies. Another translation used the original English spelling of Nadsat terms.

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