Nadsat in "A Clockwork Orange"

Alienation or Identification?

Seminar Paper, 2009

12 Pages, Grade: 2,3



1. Introduction

2. Features of Nadsat
2.1 The origin of Nadsat
2.2 Nadsat as slang
2.3 Repetitions
2.4 Sexuality

3. The function of Nadsat
3.1 The language of a criminal
3.2 The language of an aesthete

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The dystopian novelA Clockwork Orange, written by Anthony Burgess, was published in 1962. Stanley Edgar Hyman suggests that “perhaps the most fascinating thing about the book is its language”.1 I agree with him and therefore I set myself to examine this special language called Nadsat in my term paper.

The second chapter deals with important features of Nadsat, e.g. its origin. Herein I will touch upon Burgess’s inspiration to create a new language for his novel and point out languages that contributed to the evolution of Nadsat. Ongoing I will go further into the question whether Nadsat can be considered being slang by giving a definition of slang, describing reasons for this linguistic phenomenon and naming typical features of it. Furthermore I will have a look at particular words, phrases and motives which are frequently repeated in the novel and explain the reasons for that. The last feature I will pay attention to is how Nadsat handles sexuality.

The concern of the third chapter is to find out which function Nadsat holds in the novel. Herein I will distinguish between the language of a criminal and the language of an aesthete with regard to the main character Alex.

The fourth and last chapter serves my purpose to find out whether Nadsat creates alienation or identification. That is whether the reader turns away from Alex being disgusted by his actions and language or whether the reader leans towards Alex sympathizing with him and constructing a kind of alliance.

For I placed great value on the connection between my term paper and the original text edition ofA Clockwork Orange, I chose not to use much secondary literature but to work primarily with the Reclam edition released in 1992 which I will refer to asACO.

2. Features of Nadsat

2.1 The origin of Nadsat

Based onTransformations of Language in Modern Dystopias According to his curriculum vitae, a holiday to Leningrad inspired Burgess to create a special language for his novelA Clockwork Orange. Hence it’s not surprising, that most of the words in this language are based on Russian transliterations. The language is called Nadsat, and this is also a Russian term, meaning teenage. Alex declares that “nadsats [are] what [they use] to call the teens”2 and therefore their way of talking “is what [they] call nadsat talk” (ACO206). Indeed, Nadsat is almost entirely spoken by Alex and his friends, whereas most adults are not that familiar with it as the following conversation between Alex and the Discharge Officer reveals:

’Oh, I shall go home. Back to my pee and em.’

‘Your-?’ He didn’t get nadsat-talk at all, so I said: ‘To my parents in the dear old flatblock [sic!].’

The Russian words create an oppressive atmosphere and stand for a state where freedom is curtailed and where people are afraid of a too powerful government. And some of the words even sound threatening without any knowledge of the Russian language, e.g. when “this would be the nozh, the oozy, the britva, […]” (ACO27) or when “[Alex] would like to have tolchocked them both harder” (ACO54).

Though the majority of Nadsat-words is based on Russian, Burgess also borrows at least one French and one German word. Alex “[goes] off down the corridor to the old vaysay” (ACO150) and eats “two or three lomticks of like hot roastbeef [sic!]with mashed kartoffel and vedge” (ACO136).

Of course English has also contributed to Nadsat. For example, words are pulled apart and their pieces are combined. Often this happens with words from different languages: The Nadsat expressionshiveconsists of the English verbto shaveand the gipsy word forknife, which isshiv. By mixing words, Burgess is able to give a mysterious and new appearance to words, which actually are well-known. Thereforesynthemescis not a new drug, but a new composition of its actual namesynthetic mescaline.

The clipping of familiar words is another way of creating new words for Nadsat:decrepitturned intodecrepsandsarkyobviously originates insarcastic.

Old English expressions can be found in Nadsat, too. Alex is referring to policemen as rozzes, proceeding from rozzer, which sounds like an obsolete term nowadays. Furthermore he terms money ascutterwhich issues from the 19th century slang-termcut money.

Burgess provided the vocabulary of Nadsat with many puns, which are often sharply pointed. The prison chaplain becomes acharlesorcharlie, referring to Charlie Chaplin, cigarettes are known ascancersand the room where Alex undergoes the reclamation treatment is introduced as asinny, which is a clear dig at the sin, the government commits. The following conversation implies that this government, represented here by two psychiatrists, knows about the existence of Nadsat, but is not able to speak it:

’Quaint,’ said Dr Brodsky, like smiling, ‘the dialect of the tribe. Do you know anything of its provenance, Branom?’

‘Odd bits of old rhyming slang,’ said Dr Branom […]. ‘A bit of gipsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda, Subliminal Penetration.’

The question whether Dr. Branom is right and Nadsat can really be considered being slang is the topic of the next chapter.

2.2 Nadsat as slang

Based on Eric Partridge,Slang, Society for Pure English 55 (London: Clarendon Press, 1940)

To find out whether Nadsat can be considered being slang, one must have a look at the definition of slang. Eric Partridge claims that slang is “the acme and quintessence of spoken and informal language.”3 Broadly defined, slang is the product of an exuberance of activity and the natural delight of language-making. Having a closer look, one discovers slang being self-expression of an individual, a clique, a profession, a trade or a class. It is determined by two principal factors: personality and environment of the user. As a result one can say that slang is a personal way of communicating.

But what kind of people uses slang-and why?


1 David W. Sisk,Transformations of Language in Modern Dystopias(Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997) 58.

2 Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, 1962, ed. Claus Melchior (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1992) 43.

3Eric Partridge, Slang, Society for Pure English 55 (London: Clarendon Press, 1940

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Nadsat in "A Clockwork Orange"
Alienation or Identification?
University of Bamberg  (Lehrstuhl für Englische Literaturwissenschaft)
Literature into Film - The Case of Stanley Kubrick
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Da es in meiner Arbeit um Sprache geht, habe ichin sehr nah am Originaltext gearbeitet, und viele Zitate in meine Argumentation eingebettet. Dies brachte mir sowohl positive als auch negative Kritik des Dozenten ein: "Besonderes Lob verdient dein sicherer Umgang mit direkten Zitaten aus der Primärquelle. Verstöße gegen das Style Sheet unterlaufen dir kaum. Einzig der Grund für die geringe Verwendung von Sekundärliteratur leuchtet nicht ein." Also vielleicht einfach etwas umfassender recherchieren...
Nadsat, Clockwork, Orange, Alienation, Identification, slang, language, dystopian novel, Anthony Burgess, Linguistics, Literature
Quote paper
Kathrin Vogler (Author), 2009, Nadsat in "A Clockwork Orange" , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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