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NONSENSE

NONSENSE Words or language with little or no meaning and perhaps an absurd or trivial quality. The form non-sense is occasionally used as a neutral antonym of sense. The term is often attributive: a nonsense book, nonsense verse.

A nonsense syllable is formed by putting a vowel between consonants to produce a non-word, as in the sequence dib, gib, kib, mib, pib, zib, from which the forms bib, fib, lib, nib are excluded because they ‘make sense’ (that is, form known words or abbreviations). Nonsense syllables have often been used by psychologists in experiments that test memory and learning. The use of nonsense words is venerable: sometimes, like children's rhymes and folk expressions, they serve to fill out a phrase or a character (as with the giant who says fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman); sometimes they garble words that once made altogether too much sense, like the references to plague behind Ring-a-ring-a-roses, a pocket full of posies, hush-a, hush-a, all fall down. Often, however, nonsense appears to be spontaneous and a matter of whimsy: for example, in 1862 the painter and poet Edward Lear wrote the following to his friend Evelyn Baring: Thrippsy pillivinx, Inky tinky pobblebockle
abblesquabs?—Flosky! Beebul trimble
flosky!—Okul scratchabibblebongibo,
viddle squibble tog-a-tog, ferrymoyassity amsky flamsky ramsky damsky
crocklefether squiggs, Flinkywisty pomm, Slushypipp
The French linguist Jean-Jacques Lecercle draws attention to this letter in The Violence of Language (1990), saying first that it appears to be an incomprehensible hoax: ‘The only surprise is that a man of 50 should still indulge in such childish games.’ He notes, however, that the text is not entirely chaotic: it is English nonsense (not French), is laid out as a letter, suitably opens and closes, and is properly punctuated and (apparently) spelt. The words are clear-cut, some look credible, and here and there a bit of ‘sense’ creeps in (except that it may not be safe to assume that ink, scratch, and tog, or -le and -y are doing their usual jobs). Questions, exclamations, and statements also present themselves clearly, and so it is ‘only’ at the level of meaning that the system breaks down. Lecercle adds:
But perhaps I am looking for the wrong meaning. If I forget denotation and look for connotation, in other words if I go from semantics to pragmatics, the text as a whole acquires meaning… We all have to write official letters, full of the expression of high-flown but empty feeling, of conventional phrases and clichés… Hollowness, sometimes even hypocrisy, are the order of the day. Would not a semantically empty text, keeping only the pragmatic skeleton of a conventional letter, aptly embody the artificiality of such letters? Lear's meaning, if my hypothesis is correct, is satirical. Lecercle draws this meaning almost painfully from Lear's text, his conclusion pointing to a distinctive feature of nonsense: that people often work on it, like a Delphic prophecy, to eliminate as much of the non-as they can.

In recent years, especially in JAPAN, a kind of pseudo-English has begun to appear regularly on the packaging of goods, on T-shirts, and the like: Joyful, let's dash in a sky and When I jumped far beyond your imagination, I found myself a gust of wind. Such surreal snippets may now have become trendy in the English-speaking world. In ‘English know-how, no problem’ (an article in The Independent on Sunday, 9 Sept. 1990), the American writer Bill Bryson discusses such a ‘message’ on a British-made jacket seen in London: Rodeo—100 per cent Boys for Atomic Atlas. ‘What’, he asks, ‘do these strange messages mean? In the literal sense, nothing of course. But in a more metaphoric way they do rather underscore the huge, almost compulsive, appeal of English in the world. It is an odd fact that almost everywhere on the planet products are deemed more appealing, and sentiments more powerful, if they are expressed in English, even if they make next to no sense.’ See DECORATIVE ENGLISH.

Nonsense verse

The humour of nonsense verse is usually emphasized by rare words, neologisms, and unexpected juxtapositions. Often intended for children, such verse also appeals to an adult sense of the ridiculous or whimsical. In English, Edward Lear and Lewis CARROLL are its best-known exponents. Carroll's poem ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ developed from a single line (‘For the Snark was a Boojum, you see’) that occurred to him while out walking one day in 1874. Whenever asked if the poem had allegorical, satirical, or other significance, he would answer, ‘I don't know.’ In the poem, Carroll is imprecise about the nature of Snarks, but makes it clear that Boojums are a kind of Snark, and a dangerous kind at that. The poem ends with the line out of which it first grew: ‘It's a Snark!’ was the sound that first came to their ears.
And seemed almost too good to be true.
Then followed a torrent of laughter and cheers:
Then the ominous words ‘It's a Boo—’
Then silence. Some fancied they heard in the air
A weary and wandering sigh
That sounded like ‘—jum!’ but the others declare
It was only a breeze that went by.
They hunted till darkness came on, but they found
Not a button, or feather, or mark,
By which they could tell that they stood on the ground
Where the Baker had met with the Snark.
In the midst of the word he was going to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away—
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
Successful nonsense verse must respect the structure and syntax of a language; comic NEOLOGISMS need to be rooted in the familiar. In the opening lines of Carroll's ‘Jabberwocky’:’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
the reader can deduce that toves and wabe must be nouns, slithy an adjective and gyre and gimble verbs.

See ACCEPTABILITY, BABY TALK, CUMBRIC, DECORATIVE ENGLISH, GRAMMATICALITY, MINCED OATH.

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nonsense

non·sense / ˈnänˌsens/ • n. 1. spoken or written words that have no meaning or make no sense: he was talking absolute nonsense. ∎  [as interj.] used to show strong disagreement: “Nonsense! No one can do that.” ∎  [as adj.] denoting verse or other writing intended to be amusing by virtue of its absurd or whimsical language: nonsense poetry. 2. foolish or unacceptable behavior: put a stop to that nonsense, will you? ∎  something that one disagrees with or disapproves of: the idea that the gut is full of toxins that have to be flushed away is dismissed as nonsense by gastroenterologists. DERIVATIVES: non·sen·si·cal / nänˈsensikəl/ adj. non·sen·si·cal·i·ty / ˌnänsensəˈkalitē/ n. non·sen·si·cal·ly / nänˈsensik(ə)lē/ adv.

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nonsense

nonsense XVII. f. NON- + SENSE.
Hence nonsensical XVII.

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nonsense

nonsenseabeyance, conveyance, purveyance •creance • ambience •irradiance, radiance •expedience, obedience •audience •dalliance, mésalliance •salience •consilience, resilience •emollience • ebullience •convenience, lenience, provenience •impercipience, incipience, percipience •variance • experience •luxuriance, prurience •nescience • omniscience •insouciance • deviance •subservience • transience •alliance, appliance, compliance, defiance, misalliance, neuroscience, reliance, science •allowance •annoyance, clairvoyance, flamboyance •fluence, pursuance •perpetuance • affluence • effluence •mellifluence • confluence •congruence • issuance • continuance •disturbance •attendance, dependence, interdependence, resplendence, superintendence, tendance, transcendence •cadence •antecedence, credence, impedance •riddance • diffidence • confidence •accidence • precedence • dissidence •coincidence, incidence •evidence •improvidence, providence •residence •abidance, guidance, misguidance, subsidence •correspondence, despondence •accordance, concordance, discordance •avoidance, voidance •imprudence, jurisprudence, prudence •impudence • abundance • elegance •arrogance • extravagance •allegiance • indigence •counter-intelligence, intelligence •negligence • diligence • intransigence •exigence •divulgence, effulgence, indulgence, refulgence •convergence, divergence, emergence, insurgence, resurgence, submergence •significance •balance, counterbalance, imbalance, outbalance, valance •parlance • repellence • semblance •bivalence, covalence, surveillance, valence •sibilance • jubilance • vigilance •pestilence • silence • condolence •virulence • ambulance • crapulence •flatulence • feculence • petulance •opulence • fraudulence • corpulence •succulence, truculence •turbulence • violence • redolence •indolence • somnolence • excellence •insolence • nonchalance •benevolence, malevolence •ambivalence, equivalence •Clemence • vehemence •conformance, outperformance, performance •adamance • penance • ordinance •eminence • imminence •dominance, prominence •abstinence • maintenance •continence • countenance •sustenance •appurtenance, impertinence, pertinence •provenance • ordnance • repugnance •ordonnance • immanence •impermanence, permanence •assonance • dissonance • consonance •governance • resonance • threepence •halfpence • sixpence •comeuppance, tuppence, twopence •clarence, transparence •aberrance, deterrence, inherence, Terence •remembrance • entrance •Behrens, forbearance •fragrance • hindrance • recalcitrance •abhorrence, Florence, Lawrence, Lorentz •monstrance •concurrence, co-occurrence, occurrence, recurrence •encumbrance •adherence, appearance, clearance, coherence, interference, perseverance •assurance, durance, endurance, insurance •exuberance, protuberance •preponderance • transference •deference, preference, reference •difference • inference • conference •sufferance • circumference •belligerence • tolerance • ignorance •temperance • utterance • furtherance •irreverence, reverence, severance •deliverance • renascence • absence •acquiescence, adolescence, arborescence, coalescence, convalescence, deliquescence, effervescence, essence, evanescence, excrescence, florescence, fluorescence, incandescence, iridescence, juvenescence, luminescence, obsolescence, opalescence, phosphorescence, pubescence, putrescence, quiescence, quintessence, tumescence •obeisance, Renaissance •puissance •impuissance, reminiscence •beneficence, maleficence •magnificence, munificence •reconnaissance • concupiscence •reticence •licence, license •nonsense •nuisance, translucence •innocence • conversance • sentience •impatience, patience •conscience •repentance, sentence •acceptance • acquaintance •acquittance, admittance, intermittence, pittance, quittance, remittance •assistance, coexistence, consistence, distance, existence, insistence, outdistance, persistence, resistance, subsistence •instance • exorbitance •concomitance •impenitence, penitence •appetence •competence, omnicompetence •inheritance • capacitance • hesitance •Constance • importance • potence •conductance, inductance, reluctance •substance • circumstance •omnipotence • impotence •inadvertence • grievance •irrelevance, relevance •connivance, contrivance •observance • sequence • consequence •subsequence • eloquence •grandiloquence, magniloquence •brilliance • poignance •omnipresence, pleasance, presence •complaisance • malfeasance •incognizance, recognizance •usance • recusance

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