A Clockwork Orange’s ingenious use of language is one of the book’s defining characteristics. Beginning with the novel’s arresting opening, readers are inundated with “nadsat” slang, the part-Cockney, part-Russian patois Alex uses to narrate the story. Alex’s language, like the novel as a whole, is a chaotic amalgam of high and low. Just as the plot juxtaposes grotesque violence with poignant art, Alex melds disparate linguistic influences in his narration: nadsat jargon mingles with archaic formalities into a self-conscious collage. In this way, the book’s specific language is a constitutive part of its overall message—it would not be the same work of art if paraphrased in different words.
The book’s jarring contrasts in speech styles also illustrate how socially marginal the “nadsats” and their niche lexicon are. Characters’ linguistic differences articulate their social differences, and this allows Alex to shrewdly shift between registers of speech to suit his needs. To deceive adults into letting down their guard, Alex affects a “gentleman’s goloss [voice],” an almost laughably courteous mannerism punctuated by “pardons,” “sirs,” and “madams.” Throughout the book, Alex performs an assortment of these golosses, from “shocked” to “preaching.” His judgments about others derive largely from their manner of speaking, as well. This hyper-sensitivity to speech registers allows Alex to mask his insensitivity to other social cues. Much of the time, he relies on his affect to replace genuine emotion. However, although Alex’s linguistic manipulations make him seem cold-hearted and unemotional, Burgess’s clever use of language throughout the novel validates his protagonist’s views: language really is the means by which we understand the world. As the novel itself illustrates, the very words in which something is told are inextricable from its meaning, and this gives us insight into human beings and literature alike.
Language Quotes in A Clockwork Orange
You came back to here and now whimpering sort of, with your rot all squaring up for a boohoohoo. Now that’s very nice but very cowardly. You were not put on this earth just to get in touch with God. That sort of thing could sap all the strength and the goodness out of a chelloveck.
But poor old Dim kept looking up at the stars and planets and the Luna with his rot wide open like a kid who’d never viddied any such things before, and he said:
“What’s on them, I wonder. What would be up there on things like that?”
I nudged him hard, saying: “Come, gloopy bastard as thou art. Think thou not on them. There’ll be life like down here most likely, with some getting knifed and others doing the knifing. And now, with the nochy still molodoy, let us be on our way, O my brothers.”
He’d taken a big snotty tashtook from his pocket and was mopping the red flow puzzled, keeping on looking at it frowning as if he thought that blood was for other vecks and not for him. It was like he was singing blood to make up for his vulgarity when that devotchka was singing music. But that devotchka was smecking away ha ha ha now with her droogs at the bar, her red rot working and her zoobies ashine, not having noticed Dim’s filthy vulgarity. It was me really Dim had done wrong to.
Just because the police have not picked you up lately doesn’t, as you very well know, mean you’ve not been up to some nastiness.
More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.
Bog murder you, you vonny stinking bratchnies. Where are the others? Where are my stinking traitorous droogs? One of my cursed grahzny bratties chained me on the glazzies. Get them before they get away. It was all their idea, brothers. They like forced me to do it. I’m innocent, Bog butcher you.
…and that was the end of traitorous Georgie. The starry murderer had got off with Self Defence, as was really right and proper. Georgie being killed, though it was more than one year after me being caught by the millicents, it all seemed right and proper and like Fate.
This was real, very real, though if you thought about it properly you couldn’t imagine lewdies actually agreeing to having all this done to them in a film, and if these films were made by the Good or the State you couldn’t imagine them being allowed to take these films without like interfering with what was going on.
I do not wish to describe, brothers, what other horrible veshches I was like forced to viddy that afternoon. The like minds of this Dr. Brodsky and Dr. Branom and the others in white coats, and remember there was this devotchka twiddling with the knobs and watching the meters, they must have been more cally and filthy than any prestoopnick in the Staja itself. Because I did not think it was possible for any veck to even think of making films of what I was forced to viddy, all tied to this chair and my glazzies made to be wide open.
Stop, you grahzny disgusting sods. It’s a sin, that’s what it is, a filthy unforgivable sin, you bratchnies!... Using Ludwig van like that. He did no harm to anyone. Beethoven just wrote music.
And what, brothers, I had to escape into sleep from then was the horrible and wrong feeling that it was better to get the hit than give it. If that veck had stayed I might even have like presented the other cheek.
It was that these doctor bratchnies had so fixed things that any music that was like for the emotions would make me sick just like viddying or wanting to do violence. It was because all those violence films had music with them. And I remembered especially that horrible Nazi film with the Beethoven Fifth, last movement. And now here was lovely Mozart made horrible.
It is not right, not always, for lewdies in the town to viddy too much of our summary punishments. Streets must be kept clean in more than one way.
When I woke up I could hear slooshy music coming out of the wall, real gromky, and it was that that had dragged me out of my bit of like sleep. It was a symphony that I knew real horrorshow but had not slooshied for many a year, namely the Symphony Number Three of the Danish veck Otto Skadelig, a very gromky and violent piece, especially in the first movement, which was what was playing now. I slooshied for two seconds in like interest and joy, but then it all came over me, the start of the pain and the sickness, and I began to groan deep down in my keeshkas. And then there I was, me who had loved music so much, crawling off the bed and going oh oh oh to myself and then bang bang banging on the wall creching: “Stop, stop it, turn it off!”
Oh it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.
Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning vonny earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog Alex all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate. And all that cal. A terrible grahzny vonny world, really, O my brothers. And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lipmusic brrrrrr. And they can kiss my shames. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal.