A clockwork orange - nadsat - question to readers

I recently read the last chapter of “A Clockwork Orange” (was curious cuz it wasn’t in the book when I first read it way back when). I noticed again just how very heavy the “nadsat” dialect was in the text. The made-up words were not just sprinkled here and there for flavor, they were something like 20-25% of the text it seems.

Now, I am a native Russian speaker, so I could figure out most of those words pretty easily (though “oddy knocky” was a bit weird, because Burgess made it two words, and “smecking” took me a while to figure out). Another thing was that some words looked like English but meant something completely different (“starry”).

So I wondered - those who don’t know Russian, how hard was it for you to read the book? Was it really hard at the start and then you got into it and remembered what those words meant or did those weird words constantly jar you and impede the reading?

My copy is packed, but I’m pretty sure there was a dictionary as an appendix.
Even without using it, it wasn’t hard to figure out most of the words (nothing like Ridley Walker, which was astoundingly slow to read!).

I seem to recall my copy had the dictionary/glossary at the end also. I still use a lot of the words, mostly when talking to the dogs. The grazhny, vonny dogs with the 18 inch prehensile yahzicks.

What do you think of the last chapter? I "Wiki"ed it, and it sounds like shit to me. I’m not interested in reading it. Wondering what others think.

I know no Russian, but didn’t have the slightest problem understanding the slang. Burgess made everything clear through context.

There was a dictionary in some editions, but that was for wimps. :slight_smile:

Let’s hear it for horrorshow devushkas with great big groodies! :smiley:

Seemed like an attempt at “happy ending” that really felt forced and I think didn’t fit the rest of the book.

That’s the impression I got from Wiki. The literary genius who convinced Burgess to leave it out nailed it.

I think the chapter was left out of the American edition without his approval. At any rate, I always thought the novel felt incomplete and when the full book was finally released here, it made a lot more sense. Without the final chapter the message seems to be a Javert-like philosophy that criminals are criminals because they’re criminals, and can never change. The complete novel shows that people can change, just not by force or brainwashing.

My edition has a Nadsat glossary as well, but it wasn’t written by Burgess - it was written by the guy who wrote the afterword, Stanley Edgar Hyman.

Incorrect - he agreed to leave that chapter out, since the choice was that it would not be published at all. He stated so in his introduction to the 1986 edition, which was the first time the 21st chapter was published in the USA. Pretty interesting essay - he wished he could disown the book, and is unhappy that it’s the work he’ll be remembered for when he thinks his other works are much better.

But put me on the list of people who think the 21st chapter is terrible. It feels like something the old Hays Code would have forced him to add. Yes, teenagers grow up and become productive members of society, but not someone as horrible as Alex.

It was tough for the first 30 pages or so, but with repetition and context I picked it up pretty quick and liked it. At least that’s what I remember, it’s been 20 years since I’ve read it.

Same as Sitnam - once I got used to the argot it went fairly smoothly.

Add me to the list of people who thought the last chapter was counter-productive. The whole point of the novel is to ask the question the chaplain asks - “is it better to choose the evil than to have the good forced on you?” The forced, happy ending makes it sound like the question doesn’t matter in the end. That sort of deflates the novel.


I had seen the movie before reading the book. Actually the first time I saw the movie I caught it in the middle, when he’s having a relatively normal conversation with the prison chaplain, so I was hooked before anything even got weird! I always wondered if I would have persevered with the book if I hadn’t already understood it.

However, I’m reading a book* right now that has its own language, and IMO the new words and even sentence structure are much more difficult than ACO. But I did hang in there so I think I’d have gotten into ACO if I’d been sufficiently motivated to give it a chance.

I was under the impression that one was supposed to pick up the slang as one went along. The slang was based on really mangled Russian (‘khorosho’ became “horrorshow,” with both words meaning, essentially, “good,”) but with chunks of traditional British slang, including Cockney Rhyming Slang, and even a few Americanisms.

I assumed Burgess was trying to create a near future “mod” slang based on design elements he was extrapolating from what he saw around him at the time.

About halfway through the book, first time I read it, back in high school, I doped out what the slang meant, and then started reading the book over, so I could understand what was going on. The rest of the book made perfect sense.

And when I finished it… I found the Nadsat glossary in the back. Sigh.

I was handwriting my own glossary as I went along and then realized that there was one in the back of the book.

I saw the movie first and then read the book a couple years later and my edition had the 21st chapter. I don’t remember being disappointed with it. Sort of a “you can’t force nature” message to it, I guess (but it’s been decades).

The edition I first read did not have the extra chapter. Still not sure if I like it better with or without.

I feel qualified to answer this question because I TRIED to read ***A Clockwork Orange ***in my teens and in my Twenties, and both times I gave up in frustration, since I couldn’t figure it out.

I’m 54 now, and I read it again this past year. For no special reason, THIS time everything clicked all of a sudden. I figured out some words from context, and then remembered them when Alex used them again later.

You just hang in there and, somehow, it just starts to make sense. I suspect a glossary would only have slowed me down.

I know how you feel, because I saw the movie long before I ever finished the book.

But the “happy” ending doesn’t feel tacked-on or unrealistic. Alex is a smart kid, after all, and it’s hard to imagine him NOT getting bored with the thug life at some point. If Alex had become, say, a born-again Christian, THAT would have been ridiculously unrealistic. But it seems perfectly natural to me that Alex would grow up eventually, and tire of his old life.

I read it in high school many times and I don’t remember having trouble with the language. I think my copy had a glossary.

I studied Russian in university and one day I re-read Clockwork and realized that the street slang was Russian.