From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Created byAnthony Burgess
Setting and usageA Clockwork Orange (novel and film)
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)

Nadsat is a fictional register or argot used by the teenage gang members in Anthony Burgess's dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange. Burgess was a linguist and he used this background to depict his characters as speaking a form of Russian-influenced English.[1] The name comes from the Russian suffix equivalent of "-teen" as in "thirteen" (-надцать, -nad·tsat). Nadsat was also used in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of the book.

"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."

Drs. Brodsky and Branom, A Clockwork Orange, page 114.


Nadsat is a mode of speech used by the nadsat, members of the teen subculture in the novel A Clockwork Orange. The narrator and protagonist of the book, Alex, uses it in first-person style to relate the story to the reader. He also uses it to communicate with other characters in the novel, such as his droogs, parents, victims and any authority-figures with whom he comes in contact. As with many speakers of non-standard varieties of English, Alex is capable of speaking standard English when he wants to. It is not a written language: the sense that readers get is of a transcription of vernacular speech.

Nadsat is English with some borrowed words from Russian. It also contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang, the King James Bible, German, some words of unclear origin and some that Burgess invented. The word nadsat is the suffix of Russian numerals from 11 to 19 (-надцать). The suffix is an almost exact linguistic parallel to the English '-teen' and is derived from "на", meaning "on" and a shortened form of "десять", the number ten. "Droog" is Russian друг "close friend".[2] Some of the words are almost childish plays on English words, such as eggiweg ("egg") and appy polly loggy ("apology"), as well as regular English slang sod and snuff it. The word like and the expression the old are often used as fillers or discourse markers.

The original 1991 translation of Burgess's book into Russian solved the problem of how to illustrate the Nadsat words by using transliterated, slang English words in places where Burgess had used Russian ones – for example, "droogs" became "фрэнды" (frendy). Borrowed English words with Russian inflection were widely used in Russian slang, especially among Russian hippies in the 1970s–1980s.


Burgess, a polyglot who loved language in all its forms, was aware that linguistic slang was of a constantly changing nature.[3] He knew that if he used contemporary modes of speech, the novel would very quickly become dated. His use of Nadsat was pragmatic; he needed his narrator to have a unique voice that would remain ageless, while reinforcing Alex's indifference to his society's norms, and to suggest that youth subculture was independent from the rest of society. In A Clockwork Orange, Alex's interrogators describe the source of his argot as "subliminal penetration".

Russian influences[edit]

Russian influences play the biggest role in Nadsat. Most of those Russian-influenced words are slightly anglicized loan-words, often maintaining the original Russian pronunciation.[4] One example is the Russian word Lyudi, which is anglicized to lewdies, meaning "people".[5] Another Russian word is Bábushka which is anglicized to baboochka, meaning "grandmother", "old woman".[5] Some of the anglicised words are truncated, for example "pony" from ponimát’, "to understand", or otherwise shortened, for example "veck" from čelovék, "person", "man" (though the anglicized word "chelloveck" is also used in the book).

A further means of constructing Nadsat words is the employment of homophones (known as folk etymology). For example, one Nadsat term which may seem like an English composition, horrorshow, actually stems from the Russian word for "good"; khorosho, which sounds similar to horrorshow.[5][6] In this same manner many of the Russian loan-words become an English–Russian hybrid, with Russian origins, and English spellings and pronunciations.[7] A further example is the Russian word for "head", golová, which sounds similar to Gulliver known from Gulliver’s Travels; Gulliver became the Nadsat expression for the concept "head".[5][6]

Many of Burgess's loanwords, such as devotchka ("girl") and droog ("friend") maintain both their relative spelling and meaning over the course of translation.[7]

Other influences[edit]

Additional words were borrowed from other languages: A (possibly Saudi-owned) hotel was named 'Al Idayyin, an Arabic-sounding variant on “Holiday Inn” Hotel chain, while also alluding to the name Aladdin.

Word derivation by common techniques[edit]

Nadsat's English slang is constructed with common language-formation techniques. Some words are blended, others clipped or compounded.[4] In Nadsat-language a "fit of laughter" becomes a guff (shortened version of guffawing); a "skeleton key" becomes a polyclef ("many keys"); and the "state jail" is blended to the staja, which has the double entendre "stager", so that its prisoners got there by a staged act of corruption, as revenge by the state, an interpretation that would fit smoothly into the storyline. Many common English slang terms are simply shortened. A cancer stick which is (or was) a common English-slang expression for a "cigarette" is shortened to a cancer.[7]

Rhyming slang[edit]

This feature of Nadsat is derived from Cockney.

Charlie = "chaplain"
Chaplain and Chaplin (from Charlie Chaplin) are homophones. Using the principles of rhyming slang Burgess uses Charlie Chaplin as a synonym for "chaplain" and shortens it to Charlie.[8][better source needed]
Cutter = "money"
Cutter rhymes with bread and butter, a wilful alteration of bread and honey "money".[4][6]
Pretty polly = "money"
Another colloquial expression used to describe the concept "money" is lolly. Lolly rhymes with pretty polly, which is the name of an English folk song and in the world of A Clockwork Orange becomes a new expression for "money".[8][better source needed]
Hound-and-horny = "corny"
Twenty to one = "fun"
Fun meaning gang violence in the context of the story.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anthony Burgess, Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air.
  2. ^ Eric Partridge, et al., The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English; Wiktionary друг (Russian)
  3. ^ "Yes, [Anthony] Burgess loved to scatter polyglot obscurities like potholes throughout his more than 50 novels and dozens of nonfiction works. He could leap gaily from Welsh to French to Malay to Yiddish in one breath." Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times 24 August 1997.
  4. ^ a b c Oks, Marina; Christiane Bimberg (2009). "The Rebus of "Nadsat," or, A Key To A Clockwork Orange". Textual intricacies: essays on structure and intertextuality in nineteenth and twentieth century fiction in English. Trier: Wiss. Verl. Trier. pp. 37–56.
  5. ^ a b c d Jackson, Kevin (1999). "Real Horrorshow: A Short Lexicon Of Nadsat". Sight and Sound (9): 24–27.
  6. ^ a b c Evans, Robert O. (1971). "Nadsat: The Argot and its Implications in Anthony Burgess' 'A Clockwork Orange'". Journal of Modern Literature (1): 406–410.
  7. ^ a b c Watts, Selnon (2007). Understanding Nadsat Talk in Anthony Burgess' a Clockwork Orange.
  8. ^ a b Arnott, Luke (2009). The Slang of A Clockwork Orange. Retrieved 24 June 2015.

General bibliography[edit]

  • Aggeler, Geoffrey. "Pelagius and Augustine in the novels of Anthony Burgess". English Studies 55 (1974): 43–55. doi:10.1080/00138387408597602.
  • Burgess, Anthony (1990). You've Had Your Time: Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess. New York: Grove Weidenfeld. ISBN 978-0-8021-1405-1. OCLC 806307724.
  • Gladsky, Rita K. "Schema Theory and Literary Texts: Anthony Burgess' Nadsat". Language Quarterly 30:1–2 (Winter–Spring 1992): 39–46.
  • Saragi, T.; Nation, I. S. Paul; Meister, G. F. (1978). "Vocabulary Learning and Reading". System. 6 (2): 72–78. doi:10.1016/0346-251X(78)90027-1.

External links[edit]