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A Clockwork Orange

Slang dictionary created for A Clockwork Orange discovered

The writer of the cult novel created a dictionary of slang that was thought lost – until now

Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange over 50 years ago. For the book, upon which Stanley Kubrick based his hit film, Burgess created futuristic slang he thought the characters might use, and in doing so, ended up with enough new words to populate an entire slang dictionary.

It was long thought that the dictionary he created as a result had been lost. The second volume of his autobiography, first published in 1990, was the only time Burgess made reference to its existence. The dictionary has finally been discovered. It was found at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation by staff.

“We’re thrilled to be making such exciting and important discoveries as we’re cataloguing the collection,” the foundation’s archivist, Anna Edwards, told the Guardian. “We found the surviving fragments of the dictionary at the bottom of a large cardboard box, packed underneath some old bedsheets. I suppose the reason for not finding this earlier is that the box seemed to be full of household objects, not literary papers.”

Burgess called his invented slang Nadsat, which was made up of Anglicised Russian words. His dictionary contains several hundred entries for three letters: A, B, and Z. None of it has been published, or even seen, until now. Each entry is typed up on a 6 x 4 index card.

Combing through his list of words is fascinating. Abdabs, for example, is defined as a “fit of nerves, attack of delirium tremens, or other uncontrollable emotional crisis”. Abyssinia means “I’ll be seeing you. A valediction that started during the Italo-Abyssinian war. Obsolete, but so Joyceanly satisfying that it is sometimes hard to resist.”

The foundation is working with a slang lexicographer, Jonathon Green, who is working to untangle Burgess’ thought process while putting the dictionary together. No word yet on whether or not it will be published or made available to the public. Green will give a talk about the book’s discovery on July 4 as part of Anthony Burgess: Life, Work, Reputation.