Outcome: Vocabulary

Analyze vocabulary usage

You may be familiar with the poem “Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll, written in 1871. Take a look at it here. As you read, or listen to the audio version, consider: how do you know what it means?


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Maybe we share the experience with Alice (of Alice in Wonderland fame) after she reads it:

“It seems very pretty,” she said when she had finished it, “but it’s rather hard to understand!” (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate.”

Even though Lewis Carroll invented many of the words of the poem, we still are able to get a clear sense of the action and adventure in it. There are enough clues around the words, an in the words themselves, for us to envision meaning.

Approaching any new set of vocabulary can be something like reading “Jabberwocky” for the first time. By using context clues, analyzing the structure of the word, and breaking out the trusty dictionary, you’ll soon be master of a whole new range of thoughts, and words appropriate to express them.

Learning goals

In this chapter, you will

  • use strategies for defining words from context
  • use strategies for defining words from word parts (prefixes, roots, and suffixes)
  • describe the difference between connotative and denotative meanings of words
  • explore additional tools for defining words (i.e. dictionaries and reference works)
  • use  strategies for retaining and using new words in a working vocabulary