Humpty Dumpty Theology: “You Can Make Words Mean So Many Things”!

Illustrated by John Tenniel

This conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland always makes me chuckle because it reminds me of having a theological debate with certain ilk. Read with a hardy grin and “glory”:

“And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you” [said Humpty Dumpty.]“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t--till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice object.“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that's all.”

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

“Would you tell me, please,” said Alice, “what that means?”

“Now you talk like a reasonable child,” said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased, “I meant by ‘impenetrability’ that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.”

“That’s a great deal to make one word mean,” Alice said in a thoughtful tone.“When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra.”

“Oh!” said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

“Ah, you should see ’em come round me of a Saturday night,” Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side: “for to get their wages, you know.”

(Alice didn’t venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can’t tell you.)

“You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,” said Alice.

Lewis, Carrol. Alice and Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. Eds George Stade. New York: B&N, 2004. 186 of 245 (iBook Edition).