Anthony Burgess’s slang not so ‘horrorshow’ after all | Letters

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Peter Taylor suggests the idea that the author of A Clockwork Orange created a comprehensive slang vocabulary for the novel is wide of the mark

Anthony Burgess did not “invent a futuristic slang vocabulary” for A Clockwork Orange (Report, 3 June). He merely borrowed a few common words from Russian, such as “gulliver” for head (голова) and “droog” (друг), and he had a very simplistic view of how languages develop. If there had been a war and a Russian occupation (Burgess does not explain this), it is likely that linguistic borrowings would have started with words that have no English equivalents. Thus we already have perestroika, balaclava, pogrom and samizdat. It is unlikely that we would borrow any of the notoriously complicated Russian verbs of motion, such as Burgess’s “yekhat” (ехать), when we already have a serviceable English equivalent: “go”. Burgess was a wonderful writer, but on this occasion he seems to have spent 10 minutes with a pocket dictionary rather than doing any proper research.
Peter Taylor
(Former student at the Joint Services School for Linguists), Wrexham

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