The Frabjous Words Invented By Lewis Carroll

When we think of Lewis Carroll, we think of whimsical worlds … and words. The man who penned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, “Jabberwocky, and countless other timeless poems and works of literature has taken our imaginations to the furthest limits for decades. 

His stories—published during the mid- to late-1800s—are full of life, adventure, humor, and some of the most fantastical words. You see, Carroll wasn’t just a great wordsmith, he was a great word inventor. He loved to sprinkle in the most delightful nonce words when those in the English language just wouldn’t quite do. Here are some wonderful words Carroll is credited with coining. 

portmanteau word 

While the word portmanteau already existed, a portmanteau word was first coined by Carroll. The definition of portmanteau is “a case or bag to carry clothing in while traveling, especially a leather trunk or suitcase that opens into two halves.” Carroll took that and applied it to words, and a portmanteau word is a word that has been made by blending two words together. Think brunch (breakfast and lunch), smog (smoke and fog) and spork (spoon and fork). 


One such portmanteau word Carroll coined was frumious—a mix of fuming and furious. He used it in his famous poem “Jabberwocky” to describe the “frumious Bandersnatch.” 

As Carroll explained in the preface of his long poem The Hunting of the Snark: “Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards ‘fuming,’ you will say ‘fuming-furious;’ if they turn, by even a hair’s breadth, towards ‘furious,’ you will say ‘furious-fuming;’ but if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say ‘frumious.’”


Speaking of that frumious beast, Carroll introduced the world to the Bandersnatch in his poem Jabberwocky” and brought it to life again in The Hunting of the Snark (when a banker encounters it while hunting the Snark).

“But while he was seeking with thimbles and care,
A Bandersnatch swiftly drew nigh
And grabbed at the Banker, who shrieked in despair,
For he knew it was useless to fly.”

Today the word, when used with a lowercase B, is a noun meaning “an imaginary wild animal of fierce disposition” or “a person of uncouth or unconventional habits, attitudes, etc., especially one considered a menace, nuisance, or the like.” For example, you might call your eccentric aunt who offends everyone at every turn the bandersnatch of Thanksgiving. 


Speaking of snark, credit for that word goes to Carroll too, which first appeared in his aforementioned poem about these crazy creatures. While the first definition of the word is “a mysterious, imaginary animal,” today we use it more often in the sense of “to be critical in a rude or sarcastic way,” as in a snarky comment. But a snark hunt sounds like a lot more fun. 


As for snarks that are particularly dangerous, Carroll dubbed them Boojum. We don’t use the word a lot today in everyday conversation, but it does lend its name to a Bigfoot-like creature who favors pretty girls and gemstones in the Carolina Smoky Mountains—the legend of Boojum—as well as a popular Irish burrito chain and a tree native to Baja, Calif.


We can think of plenty of politicians who might be described as slithy. As Carroll explained in Through the Looking-Glass:

“Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”


Who doesn’t love a good chortle? A verb defined as “to chuckle gleefully,” it’s a blend of chuckle and snort. Carroll first brought us this word in Through the Looking-Glass as well. Just hope you’re not drinking milk when a chortle comes about. 


If you’re moving along heavily or clumsily, you may be said to be galumphing. A blend of gallop and triumphant, Carroll used it in Through the Looking-Glass to describe the Jabberwock slayer: “He left it dead, and with its head / He went galumphing back.” 


Oh, what a frabjous word this is! Frabjous means “wonderful, elegant, superb, or delicious.” Carroll likely created it to combine fabulous and joyous. He used it to describe the day the Jabberwock was killed: “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” 


Mimsy isn’t any kind of compliment. It means “prim, underwhelming, and ineffectual.” A blend of miserable and flimsy, you don’t want to have a mimsy excuse for why you didn’t get your work done in time. That would not make for a frabjous day. 


In the poem Jabberwocky,” the Jabberwock, “with his eyes of flame … burbled as it came!” As memorable as the word is for us, Carroll reportedly didn’t remember creating it. In a letter, however, he said it likely was a combination of bleat, murmur and warble.

Today, we use the word burble as verb meaning “to make a bubbling sound; bubble” or “to speak in an excited manner; babble.” So, your water fountain may burble, as may your BFF when they get so excited to tell you what they just heard.

Though they may not have coined any frabjous words, these authors are well-known for the names of their famous characters! But if you’re looking for something with more snark, check out some of literature’s most lovable grumps.

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