Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
by Lewis Carroll
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Chapter.Paragraph)
The Red Queen shook her head. "You may call it 'nonsense' if you like," she said, "but I've heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!" (Looking-Glass 2.58)
Maybe the real joke here is that dictionaries aren't particularly sensible anyway. After all, there's no scientific law that says a sound should mean a specific thing – all the rules of language are arbitrary.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master – that's all." (Looking-Glass 6.63-65)
Humpty Dumpy believes that he can exercise total control over language. Unfortunately, as Alice realizes, if he makes words mean anything he wants, then nobody can understand him. People have to agree on shared definitions and meanings for communication to be possible.
"I meant by 'impenetrability' that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life."
"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
"When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra." (Looking-Glass 6.68-70)
Humpty Dumpty's arbitrary redefinition of a word means that he has to explain himself anyway – making the word totally irrelevant to the conversation.