Hence the literal English of the passage is: 'It was evening, and the smooth active badgers were scratching and boring holes in the hill-side; all unhappy were the parrots; and the grave turtles squeaked out.'
There were probably sundials on the top of the hill, and the 'borogoves' were afraid that their nests would be undermined. The hill was probably full of the nests of 'raths', which ran out, squeaking with fear, on hearing the 'toves' scratching outside. This is an obscure, but yet deeply-affecting, relic of ancient Poetry.
|Word||Carroll's Explanation||Humpty Dumpty's Explanation|
|brillig||Bryllyg (derived from the verb to bryl or broil). The time of broiling dinner, i.e., the close of the afternoon.||Four o'clock in the afternoon -- the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.|
|slithy||Slythy (compounded of slimy and lithe). Smooth and active.||Lithe and slimy. Lithe is the same as 'active.' ... It's like a portmanteau -- there are two meanings packed up into one word.|
|tove||Tove, a species of badger. They had smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag; lived chiefly on cheese. "Toves" should be pronounced to rhyme with "groves".||Something like badgers -- they're something like lizards -- and they are something like corkscrews. ... They make their nests under sundials -- also they live on cheese.|
|gyre||Gyre, verb (derived from gyaour or giaour, 'a dog'). To scratch like a dog.||To go round and round like a gyroscope.|
|gimble||Gymble (whence gimblet). To screw out holes in anything.||To make holes like a gimlet.|
|wabe||Wabe (derived from the verb to swab or soak). The side of a hill (from its being soaked by the rain.)||The grass plot round a sundial ... because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it ... and a long way beyond it on each side. (Humpty Dumpty's explanation was made with some "insights" from Alice.)|
|mimsy||Mimsy (whence mimserable and miserable.) Unhappy.||Flimsy and miserable.|
|borogoves||Borogove'o'. An extinct kind of parrot. They had no wings, beaks turned
up, and made their nests under sundails; lived on veal. |
The first 'o' in 'borogoves' is pronounced like the 'o' in 'worry'. The word is commonly mispronounced as "borogroves". . . and this misspelling even appears in some American editions of the book.
|A thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round -- something like a live mop.|
|mome||I'm not certain about mome. I think it's short for 'from home' -- meaning that they'd lost their way.|
|raths||A rath is a sort of green pig.|
|outgrabe||Outgribing is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.|