Some of my friends read this book way back in school or are die-hard fans of Stanley Kubrick’s movie. I, however, despite having known about it forever, only had a very vague idea of the plot and never could make sense of the title.
One day I decided to finally read “A Clockwork Orange”, got my hands on a copy and cracked it open, not knowing in how many ways this magnificent piece of literature was about to mess with my head.
1. Forever wondering about pronunciation
I skipped over the introduction to avoid any spoilers, which multiplied my surprise when I stumbled upon the first manifestations of nadsat, a slang used by teenagers in Burgess’ fictional world that is primarily a mix of English and Russian. Part of its comedic qualities the book, however, draws from the elaborate, old-fashioned expressions and language structures popular among youth.
In the cases in which you immediately and unmistakably identify a mixed-in Russian word, such as moloko, ptsitsa, korm, etc., you feel the insatiable need to pronounce the word in “proper” Russian in your head. But how did the author intend it to be pronounced?
This question becomes particularly pertinent considering Russian words, which were transcribed in an altering way. While there are no long vocals in Russian, we often come across the nadsat words “slooshy”, “shoom”, “govoreeting” etc., which indicate elongated vocals.
2. Reading and re-reading
While reading „A Clockwork Orange“, from time to time I would come across words I did not know. In many cases, checking an English dictionary cleared my doubts immediately, but in other cases I could not be sure whether I was faced with an English or a Russian word I was unfamiliar with.
Other times I would stumble across unfamiliar words which I could only identify as Russian once I re-read the sentence several times or read it aloud.
3. New (and very weird) associations
Next, I came across a small group of words which obviously are Russian, but the way they are transcribed makes them homonyms to English words, such as “starry”. When reading the words “starry veck” for the first time I stared at these words for a couple of seconds before I started making sense of them. Yet I could not help imagining not only an old man but also a starry night …
The frequently used word “horrorshow” is, in my opinion, an example of the brilliant way in which the author construed connections between Russian and English words. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that “horrorshow” is merely the nadsat version and/or transcription of the Russian хорошо, which means “good”.
4. It takes over your brain
I experienced this phenomenon already with many other books, such as “Go Ask Alice”, “Catcher in the Rye”, “Oh Schimmi” and other books using a very distinct and unique narrator’s voice.
The nadsat slang got stuck in my head and for several days I would find myself going almost bezoomny from having all these veshes in my mozg, always ready to govoreet like a nadzat, Oh my Brothers.