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This poem shows that we can understand our language to some extent without knowing the meanings of all the words. Like Alice, we can get the drift without being able to pin down the exact meaning of any lines. To make the poem as clear as it is, Carroll depends on the suggestions that sounds create for meaning. More importantly, however, he uses key standard words to give us the essential idea (such as “Beware,” “sword,” “through and through,” and “dead”), and he also scrupulously observes proper syntax, so that we may construct meanings for the nonce words. Ironically, some words that Carroll created for this poem have become so integral to our language that computerized spell-checkers do not flag them as misspelled.
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